— Nita Chicooree
Unlike the Arab rebellion against the Ottoman Empire staged by the British in 1916, the ongoing nationwide uprising that started in Tunisia and spread like wildfire to Egypt and neighbouring Arab lands is genuinely Arab. It caught the world unawares as the long-entrenched authoritarian régimes looked set to exercise power eternally over people who seemed to have sunk into a passive resignation to their powerlessness for decades. Not surprising though that it was in Tunisia, one of the most liberal Arab countries in the post-colonial era that the spontaneous rebellion broke out.
Rage against the Régime
Authoritarian systems muzzled all opposition, tolerating little dissent in civil society while suppressing press freedom and civil liberties but still could not contain public anger at official corruption, high unemployment, widening disparities and rising food prices. The governments’ attempt to crack down, arrest and prosecute protesters has not deterred the people in their determination to topple the leaders. It is indicative of the brewing anger at local policies and deep frustration over lost power, status and prestige of Arab countries on the world stage. Algerians have called for a nationwide protest on February 12. Protests are also being staged in Yemen and Sudan. The most targeted régimes are those that embrace America’s Middle East policies. The frantic bid to cling to power by reshuffling cabinets is not toning down the rage against the régimes.
End of An Era?
If anything, Arabs in the streets are dead set against western powers pulling the strings to push forward their own lackeys on the vacant throne and trying to influence the course of events for their own interests. Enough is enough. Amid public outrage at the violent crackdown in the streets of Cairo, the French press focused on the losses of French companies in Egypt. Not to mention that the stupid first reaction of the French minister was an attempt to send arms to support the army in Tunisia. America will strive to have its own candidate appointed in Egypt to safeguard its policy in the Middle East and the security of Israel. Yet, what is most desirable to bring stability in the region is a definite solution to the Palestinian problem, which is the main cause of terrorism in the world.
Other Arab countries are scrambling to address issues and bring inreforms. Well versed in the art of survival, the Jordanian king may not be able to perform an economic miracle to satisfy his people immediately but he may have the liberty to stop supporting American Middle East policy. In Syria, ‘King’ Bashir-Al-Assad reflects Arab disgust with Israel’s action in West Bank and Gaza and is perceived as being close to the people. He may be spared a public uprising. Morocco is unlikely to rebel given the iron-fisted hold of the king and the army on the country. Mohamed VI has been groomed amid the French socialists in France and the state has a share in every company employing more than ten employees. The heavy presence of the state as the owner of the country acts as an oppressive deterrent to any form of uprising. The Saudi monarchy is likely to stay though it is one of the main financial sponsors of extremist ideology in the west and in Southeast Asia. Saudi Arabia finances schools on British territory where hate-filled speeches are delivered, according to a recent BBC report. Libya is another country where the dictator should go.
There is a glimmer of hope for the Arab world and for the rest of the world if North Africa and the Middle East are delivered from the shackles of oppressive régimes and enjoy the benefits of political freedom. And at the same time avoid falling into the trap of Islamist extremist groups. It seems unlikely to happen as the havoc caused by religious tyranny has shown itself in its most hideous forms through the talibanization of societies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet, as it happened in Iran in 1979, only religion may unite Arabs in their struggle to topple corrupt governments that act as lackeys of western powers.
The Other Tyranny
Paradoxically, the world has no proper model to offer to a future liberated Arab world. What does democracy boil down to in the capitalist world? Governments are alienated from the concerns of people; they live in an ivory tower in an irrational display of connivance with the corporate world acting as the guardians of their power to the detriment of public interest. Multi-partyism does not mean much insofar as party differences are blurred and the public has no choice and is more and more powerless.
Governments that are elected to work for the public interest cower under the dictatorship of financial markets. A so-called world financial crisis is just the work of a handful of bankers who unscrupulously created the crisis and filled their own pockets. Governments are servants of the big business corporations and adopt their values in an insolent, indecent and selfish display of wealth and power. In half-baked democracies, elected politicians act unscrupulously adopting cronyism, conflict of interest and corruption as a lifestyle. Public funds are misused at their whims and fancies for the benefit of a few. Public indignation is arrogantly ignored. And they call that ‘democracy’!