A defining moment for the Arab world
THE SLEEPING MIDDLE EAST AND ARAB WORLD HAS WOKEN UP FOR GOOD, WRITES SUHAIL MASOODI
As the Friday protests at the Maidani Tehrir could not prove decisive to change the regime, as it was expected; it, however, unnerved the already weak Hosni Mubarak. He was not only asked to step down and leave the country by the people of Egypt, but his close ally the US president, Barack Obama, also asked him to listen to the legitimate voices of people. The slogans reverberating on the streets of Egypt are very clear and loud. Hey Mubarak, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is calling you, and the hotel in Judah is waiting for you, chanted at Tehrir makes it clear that writing is on the wall.
One the other side of Arabian Peninsula Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, convened an emergency meeting of Shura and parliament on February 2 and declared that he will neither run for 2013 presidency himself nor will allow his son to do so. Interestingly, Yemeni parliament was planning to make constitutional amendment last month, which would enable a president to hold the presidency for lifetime. At the same time Jordan’s King Abdullah II sacked prime minister and his cabinet and appointed a new one, which was pretty much appreciated by western powers. Before all this, the first uprising which motivated/inspired all these movements was Tunisian revolution which might turn to be originator of reformation movement in the Arab world.
All these events suggest that the sleeping Middle East and Arab World has awakened, and for good. This becomes a challenge not only for Mubarak, but to his ilk in the Middle East and Gulf and to the Western world, particularly USA, which pretty much tries to micromanage this region.
Zain El Abidine Ben Ali’s stepping down as Tunisian president and his flight it the dead of the night provided fuel and inspiration to the Egyptian people, who were on and off protesting against the price rise, unemployment and other economic problems and social issues. Egyptians thought that if a small country with less population can dethrone its stringent and most authoritarian ruler why cannot Egypt, which is considered as the leader of the Arab region. Tarek Muhammad, a Ph.D. scholar from Egypt in China believes that Tunisian revolution was not only inspiration for Egypt but also a challenge that if they fail to change this authoritarian and ineffective government, we have no right to call ourselves leader of the Arab World. Protests were also seen in Jordan, Mauritania, Sudan, Yemen, and Algeria thus sending signals to the Arab rulers that the bells have starting ringing, therefore, your fall is certain.
But there is a serious concern. In Yemen the protests might be catastrophic. The worry about Yemeni protests is: if the protests intensify, unlike Egypt and Tunisia, they can turn into a civil war. The country which has 21 million populations with sixty million guns—which means on an average an individual owns three guns, besides tanks, rocket launchers and other modern weaponry in the hands of ordinary people. With almost tribal wars going on among the tribes, which have Al-Qaida ranks inside them, there can be bloody clashes between the government and the people. This movement will not only have divisive effect on Yemen, but might take Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states with it as well.
However, the revolution and regime change in the Arab countries, to start with from Egypt will not only determine Arab World’s future, but will also change whole geo-political relations of West towards these countries. And if the democracy comes in these countries, one might see the influence of Arabs in the world. The United States and Israel is threatened by that development. The Washington and Tel Aviv need Egypt more, in the Middle East, than Egypt needs them. But, if there is again imposition or enthronement of western led government, as it seems most probably will happen in the form of Israel and the U.S favorite Omar Suleiman led temporary government, which might turn into permanent one, it will be disastrous for the Arab world, which could crumble again, may be for many many years. The protests were started against the economic problems, and might end there if any government addresses these issues with basic respect of human rights and public service delivery. There are most likely chances of change in regime, but not system of governance. However, it would not be 100 percent democracy or 100 percent authoritarian governance system. Thus Mubarak might be replaced by incumbent vice president Mr. Omar Suleiman. If that happens Washington and Tel Aviv would be glad to see their man, on the presidential position, at the same time garner support in the country by removing Mubarak from the presidential positions. Ehsham Muhammed a Ph.D. Scholar from Egypt in China believes that people have to choose between bad and worse. “Mubarak is worse and Omar is bad,” says Mohammed, “So we may have to choose lesser evil.” Washington does not only want to meddle in Arab world affairs to keep controlling scare recourses in the region, but also to safeguard the interests of its all weather friend and ally Israel.
Transition from Mubarak will happen but how, in what form, and what will be the state of affairs at the time of transition, will determine the future of Egypt. Though Obama administration is in constant touch with Mubarak and has asked him to step down, but deep down Washington is worried which path it should take? It would not, obviously, want another Iran in the Middle East. As the symbolic military gestures are seen in the streets and planes are flying on air, Egyptian people are no way in a mood to give up. Therefore, sending signals not only to the Mubarak to leave the post, but also to the world powers that either you are with the people or with self imposed leader. And, Washington and other powers have no option this time except to be on the people’s side.
No matter what, there are visible signs of change, but the bigger question is: Can imposition of western model of free market liberal democracy bring justice and fulfil the people’s aspirations?
Protests in Cairo, Yemen and post-protest phase in Tunisia, does not clearly suggest what form of governance system would be placed in these countries. But if it turns to be a movement for Westminster democracy, Samuel Huntington’s soul would be happy. Had he been alive he would have called it fourth wave of democracy in the world. However, looking at the prevailing world order and the recent history, it is conspicuous that Westminster democracy has not shaped well in the third world countries either. Amy Chua classically presents the case in her book World on Fire, wherein she thoroughly explains how exporting free market democracy “breeds ethnic hatred and global instability”. At times the case looks clear and persuasive. Before Chua many western thinkers such as Robert Kaplan have expressed concerns with the western obsession of exporting liberal democracy to countries that lack the institutions, which support, carry forward, and nourish its principles. As per Kaplan imposing democracy on countries that lack the institutions necessary for its implementation, is naïve and often dangerous, fostering demagogues and communal hatreds. Democracy along with free markets enriches certain ethnic groups, which lead to vicious sectarian strife. This often leads to creation of market dominant minorities; groups like Chinese in Southeast Asia, Jews in Russia, Whites in Zimbabwe and Indians in Africa and Fiji. Democratic set up along with free markets allows these groups, while being minorities to control hugely disproportionate percentage of their countries assets. In such situations democracy gives voice to impoverished majorities there can be, as have been, violent backlashes on the ethnic minorities. The examples are violence against ethnic Chinese in Philippines, against Jews in Russia, against Indians in South Africa etc.
The lesson here is that the system of Westminster democracy, which is a collage of institutions, practices and principles, cannot be adopted and implemented everywhere. Nation states have to go through a necessary evolution of their systems before they can prepare and adopt this system of governance or to create their own governance system that guarantees universal human rights, yet does not clash with the basic cultural and traditional fundamentals of that society. It is too early to say which form the Egyptian revolution will take, but there is a serious need to have incremental economic, political, judicial and social policy changes in the whole Arab world, because rapid change might burst it into pieces, thus create what Durkheim calls anomic situation.
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Lastupdate on : Wed, 9 Feb 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 9 Feb 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 10 Feb 2011 00:00:00 IST
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