Saturday, January 29

Winds of Change in the Middle East

Official photograph of Egyptian President Hosn...Image via Wikipedia
In the last few weeks we have witnessed protests in Tunisia where the Ben Ali dictatorial regime has been overthrown. Now it is Egypt's turn. The dictatorial regime of President Hosni Mubarak is on the verge of collapse.

After 30 years of dictatorial rule, nepotism and corruption which had been propped up by the US, who had turned a blind eye to the Egyptian people's economic woes - severe poverty, unemployment, rising food prices and one must remember that 40% of Egypt's citizens earn less than $2 a day. Mubarak has ruled the people with a heavy hand. He was re-elected in a fraudulent election and the opposition groups, who are liberal and disunited apart from the Muslim Brotherhood, received no votes to speak of.

The Moslem Brotherhood is not taking a prominent role in the uprising which seems to be a free for all at this stage. No alternative leader can unite the various opposition factions, presenting a viable democratic alternative to the despised Mubarak dictatorship. Young Egyptians are frustrated because of the hopelessness of their situation since their birth.

This is a tinderbox. When there is violent and widespread protest, it will be difficult to contain.

Much lies in the hands of the army’s ability to crush the Egyptian uprising.
They may lose that ability as the army has family involved in the widespread protests, and it is not likely that they will fire on their own people for any length of time. It is possible that many members of the armed forces could join the ranks of the Egyptian protesters as was the case in Tunisia. The situation is very uncertain now.

Dr Mohammed El Baradei, the Noble Prize winner, who was director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is a possible alternative leader but he does not have grass roots support because of his long absence from Egypt. Now he has been placed under house arrest.

Meanwhile the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez are still simmering with protesters. Their goals are clear but there is no alternative leadership. The situation is approaching anarchy. It could allow the Muslim Brotherhood to take the initiative and be a uniting force even temporarily. If this happens, it would not help Egypt's transition towards democracy.

Egypt has a very prominent group of educated people in the opposition who could be alternative leaders. It remains to be seen if they could garner enough support from the people. Now many are heads of opposition splinter groups with which are disunited.

How this will affect the Palestinians - Israeli Conflict is anybody's guess. Mubarak was an important facilitator and this is now over, at least for now. The insensitivity of the US presidents towards the Egyptian people's economic plight is also a factor in anti-American sentiments that seem to be coming out of the protests. The reason is US unqualified support for the Mubarak dictatorship and very tenacious lip service supporting the wellbeing of the Egyptian people. In practice, Mubarak is viewed as a strategic ally of the US and this has been demonstrated by the US pouring billions of dollars into Mubarak's coffers rather than into projects that are beneficial to improving living standards and Egypt's  economy to create jobs and ease the horrifying poverty so rampant n Egypt. This could be an impetus for Islamic extremism and anti-Americanism to gain the upper hand. This would be disastrous for the future of peace between Israel and the Palestinians as well as an end to Israel's peace treaty with Egypt signed 33 years ago.

Mubarak's situation is very shaky and his only option available to him to retain his power grip on the country is by sending in the Egyptian Army to use unlimited force to quell the widespread protests. If the army deserts and joins the protesting people then the Mubarak dictatorship is doomed.

However, Egypt does have a high proportion of moderate people who are traditional Moslems and not extremists. There is no chants of "Allah Akbar" in the streets which means that there are a large number of secular people involved in protests and this maybe a check on the emergence of Islamic extremism that could become a dominant factor in the post Mubarak period.

Maybe the winds of change are not very bleak either. When one views the cracks occurring in the despotic and corrupt Arab dictatorships, there is a feeling of déjà vu when the autocratic communist dictatorships of Eastern Europe fell because of popular uprisings in the early 1990s.

No country in the Arab world, where undemocratic rule corruption and nepotism is dominant, is immune from a potential popular uprising. The evil Ahmadinajad regime in Iran will probably be on the firing line as well in the near future.

Returning to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, especially on the Gaza front ruled by an undemocratic Hamas regime which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt may also crumble. Hamas is responsible for untold suffering of the Gaza people where corruption, nepotism as well as clan warfare is rampant. The only thing that unites the factions in Hamas is the common hate for Israel and the Jewish People.

It seems possible that a revolution inspired by the people of the respective country and not a foreign power such as the US has a greater chance of success. Wherever the US had come “as liberators” against tyrants in the Middle East the results have been utter chaos and further bloodshed. Examples of this are Iraq and Afghanistan.

It would be prudent to support the Egyptian People's struggle for achieving democracy and economic improvements to their lives. This would be for the good of all the peoples of the Middle East including Israel. The future of the unknown is always a risk but one thing for sure is that it could decrease Hamas's power as well as Hezbollah's influence which is no less corrupt, cruel and autocratic.

The people of the Arab world are beginning to rise against their despotic rulers and this could weaken the various terrorist Islamic groups. Who knows?

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