Thursday, January 27, 2011

Middle East Protests...for food, work and freedom, enabled by technology

By Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star, January 27, 2011
Following the toppling of the dictator (in Tunisia), there have been anti-government demonstrations in Algeria, Jordan, Yemen and now Egypt.

Add to this mix Lebanon (where a Hezbollah-nominated prime minister has replaced the pro-Western Saad Hariri) and also the Palestinian Authority (the preferred American and Israeli interlocutor, which has been shown in recent leaked papers to have been in collusion with Israel), and you can see another pattern:
Two pro-American governments toppled (Tunisia and Lebanon), and four pro-American regimes under siege (Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Algeria).
In Egypt, tens of thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets against the autocratic and corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak. They’ve been beaten, tear-gassed and had water cannons turned on them. Almost 1,000 have been marched off to jail, and six people have died....
The grievances are the same everywhere — oppression, corruption, lack of freedom, poverty, rising prices and high unemployment amid the opulence of the thieving ruling classes.

The revolts are not led by Islamic forces, as long feared/hoped. Or even by established political opposition parties. Indeed in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood is playing catch-up.
The protesters in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and elsewhere in Egypt, as well as in Tunis, Amman and Sana, the capital of Yemen, have mostly been the young. Not unlike those in Iran who bravely led the 2009 marches against the Iranian regime after the stolen presidential election.
In fact, the American and Western model of dealing with the Arab Middle East is teetering. The support of military or monarchical regimes has been based on two pillars: keep oil in friendly and pliant hands, and back governments friendly to Israel.

So, it’s not surprising that after having played cheerleaders to the Orange Revolution (Ukraine), the Cedar Revolution (Lebanon) and the Green Revolution (Iran), Washington and other Western capitals have not known how to react to the eruption of people power in Arab lands.
If Mr Siddiqui is right that these protests are against corrupt governments (tyrannies), poverty, rising prices, high unemployment coupled with the affluent oppulence of the ruling classes, then the West needs to be especially careful not to perceive or project these uprisings as those based mostly on radical Islam. Because the West generally sees the Middle East as being populated by Muslims, and because these uprisings are occurring there in increasing numbers, there will be considerable risk of misrepresentation by the western media, in order to create a "fog of war" of a different kind from the one generated on the battlefield.
Furthermore, keeping oil in friendly hands, and supporting governments friendly to Israel will not longer satisfy as cornerstones to U.S. foreign policy in the region. And neither will providing arms to the region, for any side, serve to energize the developments in their indigenous and authentic form.
There is a certain inevitability to oppressed people being "freed" by the information available through the internet. They will not put up with oppression, if they think they can band together and overthrow that oppression. And the internet makes "getting together" far more easy and far more likely.
The Mubarek's of the world no longer serve the interests of their people, regardless of whether or not they have been friends to the U.S., to the West generally, or to Israel specifically. And their time is likely to be "up".
However, the chaos that will follow their demise will keep people like Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State for the U.S. up nights, wondering what kind of phone call she is really going to receive at 3.00 a.m. (remember her campaign for president ad's) telling her of the toppling of another Middle East, U.S. friendly dictator.
And, there is greater risk that some of those calls might even contain a threat to the supply of Middle East oil...something no one anywhere can fully contemplate, or economically absorb easily, without considerable turbulence to an already wobbly world economy.
Nevertheless, people will fight to find food, and fight to find work to provide food, and fight any forces that stand in the way of those imperatives. And there are a lot more of "the people" that there are "the dictators."
We are in for some interesting and turbulent times!
UPDATE!
The Muslim Brotherhood, while not at the forefront of these protests, is trying to take advantage of them. In fact, it will likely want to share power with whoever comes to power in some or all of theses countries...and that could spell trouble for both the U.S. and for Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood is favourably disposed to Iran, and strongly opposed to Israel, and that could make the Iranian nuclear ambition much more complicated to prevent. The Muslim Brotherhood could also make the Middle East peace process much more difficult, if not impossible to bring to a peaceful conclusion, with two states, Palestine and Israel living peaceable side by side.
Interesting times, for sure, and not likely to be without danger.








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