The Arab revolution has just begun
This is a very well written article and does a decent job of highlighting the complexity of the Arab revolt. Many in the US continue to paint all the protesters with a single brush.
This revolt was a long time coming, for generations the youth of islam have been cannon fodder to push the agendas of old men and clerics. Instead of fearing a take over by islamists the Arab leaders fear the loss of power. It is not as simple as just power and treasure, these are Arabs, and blood will flow no matter who wins.
We have seen the muslims at their worst, lets see if the youth can save themselves and refuse to die for a seventh century cult. I for one would love to see them enter this century. It may not happen, they can be beaten back down and they will currently steer well clear of US style democracy, a system that helped oppress them and keep violent regimes in power. We let them down and they know it.
My advice to the protesters is fight hard. Change is needed, where you go from here will affect your grandchildren, 21 or 7th century, freedom or continued slavery. Your life, your pick, choose wisely.
Keeble McFarlane, 19, Feb 2011, the Jamaica Observer
What happened in Tunisia and Egypt in the past few weeks is nothing less than a Magnitude 8 social and political earthquake whose after-shocks are still rocking the countries of the Arab world and beyond. A week after Hosni Mubarak accepted the inevitable and quit as president of Egypt, the throngs of young demonstrators armed with cellphones who filled Tahrir Square in Cairo, focus of the protest movement, are gone. But the square is still busy with sightseers from all over the country who want to see the place which caused a dictator to be toppled after 30 years. It’s also a place of commerce, where vendors do a brisk trade in memorabilia such as T-shirts commemorating the more than 300 people who died during those momentous 18 days and sell boxfuls of small red, white and black Egyptian flags.
Over in Tunisia, epicentre of the uprisings, some people are taking advantage of their new-found freedom to free the country. During the days of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, the secret police allowed only visitors to use the Mediterranean beaches. Now, smugglers are doing a roaring trade in transporting would-be emigrants to the Italian island of Lampedusa to seek entry into the European Union.
The caretaker government in Egypt appears to be making good on its promise to steer the country to a new model of governance. There was a promising sign of this early in the week with the appointment of a prominent jurist to head the committee drafting amendments to the constitution. Tariq al-Bishri is a respected intellectual with a record of independence from the old regime. It shows that the Egyptian military may just be taking seriously its promises to shepherd the country towards democracy.
-The naysayer will find flaws in their democracy but it took us hundreds of years and we still do not have a true democratic system nor are our own freedoms a guarantee.
But the inventive and stubborn demonstrators who forced change in both countries need to maintain their surveillance of the caretaker groups and make sure to keep their feet to the fire. Otherwise, their magnificent efforts would have been in vain and would dash the hopes of protesters in neighbouring countries who have taken their cue from the events in Tunis and Cairo. From Morocco in the west through to Bahrain in the east, protesters have taken to public places to make essentially the same arguments Mikhail Gorbachov advanced in Russia a quarter-century ago – glasnost and perestroika (openness and restructuring). Simply, they want jobs, better wages, improved living conditions, dignity, respect, freedom and an end to repression.
Over the years the United States and its Western allies have talked the talk about freedom, democracy and all that, but haven’t walked the walk when it actually came to who was in power. They gladly traded democracy away when an autocrat delivered stability and guaranteed the safety of western interests. The biggest bogeyman of all was radical Islamism which, they feared, could produce a string of Irans in the region. Well, as we have been witnessing in these protests, the arguments are about bread and butter, respect and dignity and not about denouncing “The Great Satan” (the United States) or imposing Sharia law.
Religion, though, does play a part in the protests in Bahrain, a small island on the western edge of the Persian Gulf. Sunni Muslims make up about one-third of Bahraini citizens, while Shiites account for two-thirds. The Al Khalifa family, which has ruled the island since the 18th century, is Sunni, and the government’s policies favour the Sunnis.
A big factor in Bahrain as well as in the other small states nearby – Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – is the presence of foreigners. In Bahrain, they outnumber citizens and are fully employed. Although the protesters weren’t calling for the overthrow of the Emir, the rulers fear democracy, which could put an end to the regime. The difference between these states and places like Yemen or Jordan is oil. The small Gulf states earn vast amounts of money from oil and gas. This allows the regimes to bribe their citizens with cradle-to-grave welfare systems – free health care, education through university, guaranteed jobs.
But the foreigners who more often than not make up the majority of the population are excluded – they can’t even become citizens, no matter how long they live there or even if their parents came two or three generations ago. They do, however, benefit from a kind of trickle-down effect, since they earn far more than they could back home. These folks, who clean the streets, construct mega-projects and monumental buildings, service and maintain hotels and public services, cannot complain about discrimination or ill-treatment because they know they could be hustled back home on the next plane.
Across the Gulf, two Opposition leaders in Iran called this week for protests in sympathy with the unrest in the Arab countries, but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad clamped down and organised his own rally yesterday. Iran has its own history of demonstrations. More than three decades ago, sustained protests, including the occupation of the US embassy for more than a year, toppled Reva Pahlavi from his Peacock Throne and drove him into exile.
The Shah had engendered considerable opposition by his rapid westernisation of Iranian society backed by the widely feared and despised secret police, Savak. A prominent Muslim cleric, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had fled in exile to France where he waged a guerrilla campaign against the Shah. Devout followers recorded his sermons and pronouncements on audio cassettes and circulated them widely in Iran. He returned home in triumph in 1979 and the regime he imposed was as severe as that of the Shah. Khomeini dialled the clock back several generations with an extreme version of Islam, and the regimes which succeeded him haven’t done much to cut it back. Protesters who take to the street these days take their lives into their hands as the regime is quite willing to use maximum force to crush any dissent – think back to the aftermath of the disputed election results a couple of years ago.
And what of the economic giant among them all? Saudi Arabia – the only country in the world to be named after the ruling royal family – is among the most socially backward countries despite the veneer of modern cities with impressive facilities and a constant pilgrimage of foreign leaders paying homage to the king. It sits on the biggest and most accessible pool of petroleum in the world and reaps billions of dollars a year from fuelling the cars and factories in all continents. Wahabism – a small, ultra-restrictive sect of Islam – is the only religion permitted. It controls every aspect of people’s lives and is especially contemptuous of women.
Yet even here there are signs of unrest. A 65-year-old man set himself on fire at the end of last month, the first known case of self-immolation in the kingdom. Around the same time hundreds of demonstrators staged a rare display of protest in the city of Jeddah after floods swept through at a cost of 11 lives. Earlier this month, about 40 women demonstrated in the capital, Riyadh, calling for the release of prisoners held without trial.
There won’t be any sweeping changes in Saudi Arabia, the small Gulf states or even Libya in the near future – change will come, but much more gradually than elsewhere, largely because the rulers can use oil money to buy off their populations. It’s in the countries with more conventional economies that we will see more immediate changes, because their problems are more pronounced and the necessity of heeding the calls for change are more immediate.Explore posts in the same categories: Freedom of Speech, human interest, Mideastern News, muslim Intolerance