It’s 1989, but we are the Russians

For the western world, the “Arab spring” threatens to be a classic case of good news and bad news. The good news is that this is the Arab 1989. The bad news is that we are the Soviet Union.

An exaggeration? Certainly. But there is enough truth in the analogy to explain why both the US and the European Union are uneasy about revolutions that – on one level – promote core western values, such as democracy and individual rights.

Much of the corrupt and autocratic order that is wobbling so badly in the Middle East was western-backed. The sponsorship was nowhere near as brutal or as overt as the Soviet repression of eastern Europe. And there have always been anti-western regimes, such as Iran and Syria, existing alongside the pro-western governments in the Middle East.

But there is no doubting that rulers such as Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia have been key western allies. In the classic formulation of the cold war, they were “our sons-of-bitches”. Or, as a writer in The Washington Times lamented last week: “Mr Mubarak may have been a tinpot dictator, but he supported America.”

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