There are also some serious problems coming from some of the opponents of the dictatorship, who don’t seem that keen on democracy being extended to women or Coptic Christians. Women protesting for equal rights in Tahrir Square were threatened, shouted down and told that this was the “wrong time” to discuss equality for women and that their demands were “against Islam”, while days earlier 12 people were killed in fighting between Muslims and Coptic Christians in Cairo (1) – (2).
In Libya both sides have attacked migrant workers, Gaddafi’s people attacking them as suspected “foreign agents” while some rebels and protesters attack them as suspected “foreign mercenaries” (3) – (4) This is part of a long history of racist attacks on migrant workers in riots in Libya – for instance in September 2000 around a dozen migrant workers were killed in rioting against them by Libyans (though rioters attacking black migrant workers with guns, iron bars and cars in Italy is not unknown either) (5) – (6).
However, looking at the history of other democracies, this is not unusual. There were riots attacking blacks by whites and lynchings of black people in the North of America during the American Civil War when Lincoln announced black units would be fighting alongside white ones in the Union army; and it was a century later before desegregation in the Southern states (7). Democratisation is slow, difficult and uneven. It can take decades and centuries, not just months – and the process can slip backwards or be reversed as well as going forwards. So these are no reasons to think that Arab countries can’t become democracies too, apart from the fact that many protesters believe the dictatorship’s secret police may have been stirring up trouble between different groups.
(1) = Christian Science Monitor 08 Mar 2011 ‘In Egypt's Tahrir Square, women attacked at rally on International Women's Day’, http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/20110308/wl_csm/368302
(2) = Guardian.co.uk 09 Mar 2011 ‘Muslim-Christian clashes in Cairo leave 11 dead’,http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/09/muslim-christian-clashes-cairo
(3) = Human Rights Watch 26 Feb 2011 ‘Libya: Security Forces Fire on Protesters in Western City’,http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/02/26/libya-security-forces-fire-protesters-western-city
(4) = Al Jazeera English 28 Feb 2011 ‘African migrants targeted in Libya’,http://english.aljazeera.net/news/africa/2011/02/201122865814378541.html
(5) =Ronald Bruce St. John (2008) ‘Libya : From Colony to Independence’, Oneworld publications, Oxford, UK, 2008, p 228 of paperback edition
(6) =Human Rights Watch 04 Feb 2010 ‘Italy: Speed Investigations of Rosarno Attacks’, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/02/04/italy-speed-investigations-rosarno-attacks
(7) = Leslie M. Harris (2003) ‘In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863