It is becoming clearer by the day that our explosive world could benefit from a third way, an alternative to the global polarisation that has grown so acute due to the current conflict between the West (the US and its allies) and the East (Russia and its allies). A similar global climate in the 1950s led Egypt, India and Yugoslavia to explore such an option. The Non-Aligned Movement they founded was instrumental to enabling Third World nations to steer their own fate, independently of the influence of the two superpowers. It also made them a force to be reckoned with in international affairs.
What has occasioned this topic today is the UN General Assembly vote, last Thursday, on a resolution to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council because of the human rights violations it has committed in its war against Ukraine. As the voting took place, one could not help wondering about those responsible for the violations of human rights during the invasion of Iraq and those still violating those same rights in occupied Palestine. Nor could one help remarking on how knee-jerkedly their hands shot up in favour of condemning Russia for atrocities of which those very hands are far from innocent.
But apart from such paradoxes, the most important outcome of that vote was that third bloc of nations, those that refused to bow to the pressures of either the US or Russia, and abstained. Foremost among them was Egypt, whose permanent representative to the UN explained that Egypt’s abstention stemmed from its opposition to the politicisation of human rights principles.
But the number of abstentions itself was a reflection of the acute East-West polarisation. This is precisely what shaped the philosophy of the Non-Aligned Movement, regardless of how some imagine that this type of philosophy is past its sell-by date and no longer suited to the realities of the current era. Egypt and India were among the 58 countries that abstained in the vote on the resolution against Russia. Many other countries from the global South - the Arab region, Africa and Latin America - also abstained. Another 26 countries voted against the resolution, including China and Russia’s allies.
Clearly, the international political situation is crying out for a strong third block to contain the seething bilateral polarisation that burst to the surface with the Russian-Ukrainian war. But who will lead it?
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.