RFE/RL, February 23, 2011
John Howard, who was Australia's prime minister for almost 12 years before leaving office in 2007, visited RFE/RL this week to share his thoughts about the rising democratic tide in the Middle East and what the West can do to change authoritarian regimes.
Against a backdrop of toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt, a teetering one in Libya, and ripples in Bahrain, Yemen, Morocco, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa, Howard talked about hopes of democracy building in Iraq and across the Middle East. The interview was conducted by RFE/RL senior correspondent Charles Recknagel.
RFE/RL: How do you interpret what is happening today across the Middle East? Do you see it as a democratic revolution, as a sea change in the region's political culture and, if so, where might it lead?
John Howard: I'd express the hope that it is a tide for democratic change. Sensibly, we have to suspend judgment until we see how things work out, but I have an optimistic view. One of the things I find very encouraging is that in all the visuals I have seen of the demonstrations, there has been a complete absence of any anti-Americanism or, as far as I can discern, any anti-Israeli motives. Normally, when you have orchestrated demonstrations in previously authoritarian or totalitarian countries, there is a contrived element that comes through in the pictures. That hasn't occurred on this occasion....
As far as one can see, the crowds are very young; and there may be a lot of messages in that -- not only the fact that the young, of course, are using the social media and communications devices and are increasingly restive with being told how they should behave and with being denied fundamental freedoms, but it might well mean that the young have a different take on things that might have been the propaganda tools of their elders.
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Former Australian PM Howard Hails Absence Of 'Contrived Element' In Mideast Protests