Is the age of dictatorships ending in the Arab world?
By Marwan Asmar
The train to throw away dictators is going full steam ahead with the toppling and death of Moammar Gaddafi. First it was Tunisia, Egypt followed swiftly. The toppling of their leaders, in less than two months between 17 December 2010 and 11 February, 2011 heralded a popular cyclone in the region with turbulence experienced from Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman and Syria.
Despite the fact many said Jordan would follow next after Egypt, popular protests in the country have been little in the face of the mass protests in the region. Jordan seems to be not only a stable place but orderly compared with state violence in Libya, Syria and Yemen.
All countries across the Arab world, except Iran whose opposition has an on-going issue with their present regime, are riding in revolutionary fervor. Popular protests are "elastic" from the hundreds to the thousands that have come to dominate the Arab streets from its north and western tips to its southern and eastern ridges.
During and after the popular uprising in Egypt, Yemen blew its horns, with thousands taking to the streets in its capital Sanaa, Aden and elsewhere, openly calling for the removal of Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh who has been in power since 1978 over the then South Yemen, and later when Yemen became united in 1991.
But the one that followed Egypt was Libya whose leader, refused to step down but killed mercilessly as the 17 February Revolution continued against his rule with the revolutionaries eventually taking over at the end of August, 2011.
Bahrain at the same time put the heat up with hundreds and thousands taking place in its capital Manama and other cities soon followed after Mubarak was forced out of office in Egypt.
Unlike Yemen, Bahraini protestors first started calling for constitutional reforms, and reshaping the monarchical system ruled by a Sunni minority with some voices calling for the removal of family rule instead of making it a constitutional monarchy. As the protests continued, Saudi Arabia, under the Gulf Cooperation defence pact sent in its own troops.
Unlike the rest of the Gulf countries, 70 percent of Bahrainis are Shia who feel they are discriminated against in the economy and the workplace, and are prone to greater unemployment and poverty. One contentious point being is that the political Suni elite to which the ruling Salman's family belongs to, have over the years naturalized many foreign Sunis to try and increase their equilibrium in the population.
Like Egypt and Yemen, Bahrain has strategic value in the area as the home of America’s 5th fleet in the Arabian Gulf, and any popular uprisings, leading to the change in the political status quo would likely send shivers among American foreign policy makers who likened Iran as the “nuclear bogeyman in that part of the region. They are additionally worried that any changes in this area of the Gulf, like it has been the case in Egypt, would turn the long built American strategy on its head.
Headaches for them have increased further to the southwest in Yemen, an American anti-terrorism ally against Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. If Ali Abdullah Saleh goes, the US may not only lose such an ally, but worse still the country of 23 million could become the rallying ground for bringing back the communists, who had ruled South Yemen before it was united in 1991; it could further mean that the American so-called global war on terrorism would dampen to a mute. But it clearly hasn't for the war against Al Qaeda continued with the killing on 30 September, 2011 of of Anwar Al Awalaki, an American citizen, but chief of operation of the movement in the Arabian Peninsula stationed in Yemen.
Further still, a change of regime in Yemen and at the very least a nationalist or pro-democracy government, might herald a new set of policy measures by its northern neighbor Saudi Arabia, and to Oman further its east. Popular resentment in these countries is seeping.
Active mass popular movements are scary, they upset, bringing about change and lead to different tunnels which leaders, regional countries, and world politicians have long sought to avoid. In today's stage of Arab politics what is shown and proved time and again is many people of the region have passed the psychological barrier of fear and they are no longer afraid to speak out.
In the face of Egyptian protestors, and Yemeni demonstrators Ali Abdullah Saleh, quickly sought reform, allowing his pro-supporters to rapidly occupy and tent his capital’s Tahrir Square, forcing anti-government demonstrators to the streets, introduce political reforms and now changed the government.
These are seeming timid still—he now won’t stand for president in 2013, would not hand power to his son, and dropped legislations making him president for life. The street answer to that was more demonstrations and more banners calling for his removal, and this is despite the fact that Yemen has always been seen as tribal society where conservativism and loyalty overtake revolutionary politics.
In the light of these however, the Bahraini authorities are trying to act quickly, though it took them a while to fathom the mood of the street, and only after the shooting of two people by the country’s security forces, which fuelled public anger further. While the Bahraini Ministry of Interior quickly apologized to the “street” and appealed to the country’s national sentiments, with the King Sheikh Hamad Ben Salman personally coming television to appeal for calm and guaranteeing the right to demonstrations.
While not a single bullet was fired by the army against the people in Egypt’s 18-day revolution, the contrast was being made that in Bahrain with police firing in descriminately, being only upped by Gadaffi's militias who are opening fire on their people. And the case is true of Syria, where the police had no qualms about openly shooting at protestors in Deraa' in the southern part of the country.
The region is at a boiling point, experiencing events never "before in its modern history. The United Arab Emirates is trying to introduce a modicum of reforms to it’s country’s consultative council, Kuwait has already given a JD 1000 for each of its citizens, Iraqis are taken to the streets to improve their economic lot, Jordan’s has new government together with the one promised by the National Palestinian Authority and the ball is rolling.
Algeria is witnessing much rallies at the rocketing prices and high unemployment, a situation that has intermittingly continued at the same time as the quest for regime change in Tunisia began in December 2010.
Today, and watching developments in the region Algerian President Abdelazziz Boutafliqa has repealed the country’s Emergency Laws by way of a palliative but he may have to go much more than that.
Today lips Libya is on everyone's whose cities, notably Benghazi and towns like Al Baida, Shahat and Zantan near Tripoli are flaming in celebrations having toppled Moammar Gaddafi in August, 2011, and his eventual capture in Sirte, his hometown and death on 20 October, 2011. It took time to remove him despite the UN 'no-fly zone' which was implemented by NATO member like the United States, Britain, France, Italy and others.