I am aghast at a lot of the news coming out of US sites about what is going on in Libya.

First, there are the “ain’t it awful” posts, lamenting that the side backed by the West hasn’t won yet, (in 7 whole days).

Second, they find out that some of those revolting are Islamicists. Well, duh. That’s like saying a lot of Republicans are fundamentalist Christians.

Sorry, there will be an Islamic spin on the law even in a secular democracy because the people want it. The question is if it will be a radical, intolerant Islam or if it will mirror the tolerant Islam of the past. To put it into European history: Will it be a Cromwell or a William of Orange? A Tony Blair may take another 100 years.

Third, which is the worst: putting the humanitarian intervention in a political spin against President Obama.

This is “humanitarian” because in Libya, it is not a “civil war” per se, but an unpopular dictator buying mercenaries and using money stolen from his people to war against the majority of his people. Backing the people in this is not just smart, but humane, although one doubts a similar scenerio will invoke direct intervention in the West.

Finally, one has to remember that there is an “invisible man” in the argument: The overseas workers.

In Libya, over 200 thousand foreigners were caught in the crossfire, including 25 thousand Filipinos. These included Egyptian and African farm workers, Filipino drivers, oil workers, and nurses, Chinese who worked in the telecom business, etc.  If Libya doesn’t calm down, there will be major problems of hunger, not only in that country but in nearby countries where families rely on their salaries to exist. Libya is also a staging point for African refugees to flee into Europe, so there is a real worry in Europe of a surge in these penniless and often ill educated refugees. (think Mariel boat lift).

So the ripple effect of the Jasmine revolutions will affect the world.

The big question right now (unless one is an Israeli worried about Syria) is Bahrain.

Many of the Gulf states have tolerant monarchies. Yes, Saudi is run by tribal monarchs who are strict Islamicists, but the Gulf monarchs have been traders from time immemorial (think Sinbad the Sailor) and are used to trading with and living with infidels.

Yet their people tend to be Shiite, and Iran sees it as part of the ancient Persian empire, and is meddling there.

So right now, in Bahrain, you have the rural and poor people encouraged by Iran to overthrow their monarchy. Yet the US has bases there. So who do you back?

Yet if the 200 thousand “foreigners” fleeing Libya have caused a problem for their home countries, what will happen if the Gulf region of the Middle East destablizes?

There are over a million Filipinos in the area, and there is no way this country could absorb such a blow to it’s economy, let alone be able to pay for their travel home. (one government official said if it comes to that, we would have to ask the US to help: and given the large number of leftist patriots who still chaff at once being America’s little brother, that would cause a political uproar here).

And this doesn’t even take into consideration the stop of cheap oil, which in the US means only higher prices of gasoline for one’s automobile, but here means higher food prices and hunger.

So into this mix ask the question: Whose country is it anyway?

In the US, this has been an ongoing argument as far back as the No-nothing riots, and right now the whipping boy is the Mexican immigrants. Happily for Americans, what usually happens is that the kids assimilate and intermarry, and the question slowly evaporates away. Oi veh: will our kids speak Spanglish? Wala problemo, dude…

Yet in Europe, with a growing Muslim immigrant population, there is a real fight about who should be a full citizen. This question varies  from country to country, yet a student of history, remembering the ethnic cleansings after both world wars, wonders if the past might repeat itself.

Yet strangely, no one seems to be bringing this question up in the Middle East.

Yet the whole question of Israel is structured about the “right to return” by the Palestinian refugees (while of course, ignoring the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who were forced out by Muslim countries at the same time). To complicate matters, many of these countries have Kurd or Arab or Copts or other minorities.  No wonder some historians wonder if the breakup of the Ottoman Empire was a bad idea.

Yet there is an “invisible man” in the story, and this also has international repercussions.

A million Filipinos live in the Middle East, not to mention the hundreds of thousands from Egypt, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. If the Middle East implodes into civil war, where do they go? And if they go home, will the loss of their wages cause the economies of their home countries to implode?

Or should the world insist that these immigrants be given citizenship in these countries?  From Global Voices Blog:

 … According to the Bahrain 2010 census, the expat community makes a slight majority with 51 per cent of Bahrain’s 1.2 million strong… a journalist and blogger of Indian background who has spent most of her life in Bahrain, writes about her thoughts on the ongoing unrest in Bahrain:

Many expats in Bahrain, like me, have been born and brought up on this island. Our parents may not have the Bahraini passport, nor do we, but I wonder if that makes us any less citizen of this country just cuz the colour of our passport is not red…

Our parents migrated here decades ago, we have our livelihood here and Bahrain is where we call home…

A lot of expatriates also came out in public in support of the Royal family. Many reacted when expatriates stepped out in favour of the government here, saying “it is their internal matter, why do you interfere?” To these critics I have but only one question, “Would you stand back and watch when your house, your country is getting hurt? Would you say it’s not my responsibility and stay away?” When our country is in crisis, it is our right and duty to step forward.


Finally, I am happy to see that the Washington Post has a story on how police/political corruption, was the tipping point of the revolution in Tunesia.

The US seems clueless about third world corruption, how it pervades everyday activity and that it’s end result is not to enrich the corrupt as much as it makes it difficult if not impossible for ordinary folks to become entrepeneurs, and makes international businesses to prefer to invest elsewhere when possible.

The joke that in the Philippines, the bribes come “over the table, under the table and with the table” isn’t funny, because it means you can’t rely on a delivery you paid for, that your supplies won’t be stolen, that you might be sold shoddy goods, etc. A lot of time and energy is spent keeping an eye on these things, whereas in the US, you simply can trust that the supplier is honest and your workers won’t pilfer anything more valuable than a ballpoint pen.

The reason for this is that the US is culturally Cavinist Protestant, that sees hard working entrepeneurs as doing God’s will, sees hard earned wealth as God’s gift, and sees honest living and keeping one’s word as part of the agreement with God if your work is to be successful. (and the “protestantization” of the middle class here in the Philippines is one reason behind many of our more successful businesses).

This linking of religion and honesty is one reason for the popularity of Islamic law.

The popularity of Islamic law is not because folks are religious nuts, but because they hope a pious Islamic leader won’t steal everything in sight. The experience of Iran shows this might not be true, but like the US Moral Majority, ordinary people in many of these countries are naive enough to believe religion and virtue are linked.

In summary, there are a lot more things going on in the Middle East than what you read in the papers, and much of what is going on there is not about Obama at all, nor is it in his control.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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