When the first signs of the Arab Spring dawned, the West smiled knowingly. Democracy and the voice of the people would always triumph. The Velvet Revolution that saw the Soviet Empire rolled back from Eastern Europe proved peaceful transition was possible.
Tunisia changed and all seemed hopeful. The people gathered in Cairo, the military dictatorship fell (hurrah! – albeit that he was once the West’s friend). A free election followed (more cheers) and the Muslim Brotherhood came to power (boo! – it must have been rigged). More street protests and the army returned to power, less gentle than before. A once stable nation suddenly felt less safe and our friendship less assured.
Perhaps a little help was required to ensure Spring was sprung. Bombs fell and Libya was free of dictatorship. The British and French leaders were treated as heroes – and then the nation fell apart. Once again the West had intervened, brought about change and had no real plan for what would happen next.
The lesson unlearned, when popular protest emerged in Syria surely Spring was really here. This time a rather half-hearted shaking of the tree in the hope Assad would fall but there was no united opposition and other regional powers started to vie for power.
Bloodshed and chaos followed, the West looked helplessly on while Russia took centre stage. Meanwhile millions were displaced and most decided to flee to Europe. The West had vaunted itself as the beacon on democracy but did not want this kind of attention.
The Arab Summer never came but the West’s Winter had arrived. Europe’s proud boast of freedom of movement suddenly became half-hearted and borders were once again fortified. The community of nations suddenly became more nationalistic, right-wing parties started to prosper and in the cold winds of change the West has started to shiver.
The West’s arrogant belief that it could interfere in other countries in the name of democracy and capitalism has rebounded upon itself. The hope of Spring has been long forgotten and Winter has set in – the kind of Winter where it always snows and Christmas never comes. Despite Brexit, Trump and the political changes which 2017 threatens, the West seems to have still not learned its lesson – it no longer has the authority to strut its stuff on the world’s stage. Spring will only return when we recognise and adjust to a changing world order. It is no longer all about us.