Monday 7 February 2011

Does the Uprising in Egypt Open the Floodgates for Other Countries in the Middle East?

President Hosni Mubarak is clinging on to power in Egypt by his fingernails. But this is clearly only a temporary situation, and an attempt for him to retain some element of dignity. His political career has been brought to an abrupt end and, with it, any aspirations that his son Gamal may have had to succeed him. The rule of this modern-day Pharaoh and his family is finally over.

Mubarak's rule over Egypt for the past thirty years has been difficult to characterise. He assumed power from the assassinated Anwar Sadat soon after Egypt was practically excommunicated from the Arab world for signing a peace treaty with Israel. Mubarak had the job of stabilising Egypt after the murder of its president, while also seeking out friends to use as a leg for its foreign policy. He has maintained cordial relations with Israel which have served to preserve the peace agreement between the countries. He has engaged with the USA and other western countries which has ensured that Egypt has had trading partners, has been at the centre of peace negotiations and has been the recipient of generous military aid packages. Internally, Mubarak has chosen to rule Egypt under the constant threat of the provisions of the state of emergency, and while ensuring that all opposition to his rule has been firmly stamped out. This has brought benefits to Israel and other western countries because he has been sure to crush the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which presents a real threat along with Al-Qaeda and other Islamic fundamentalist organisations.

It is my assessment that the people of Egypt have enjoyed a fairly good existence during Mubarak's rule. As long as they were prepared to toe the line and support the regime, they could have enjoyed a fairly acceptable lifestyle and standard of living. Egypt has enjoyed economic success via its policy of engaging the west. It has been the destination for millions of western tourists with the economic benefits that tourist industry brings. It has established itself as a telecommunications crossing point with many telecommunication cable systems crossing Egypt undersea and overland in a link between Europe and the Far East. The western military aid packages have served to boost the Egyptian army and, with it, the military support for Mubarak's regime. For the average Egyptian, however, it seems that even this has not been enough. Mubarak's unwillingness to provide a political environment allowing Egyptians the freedom to determine their own political destiny has directly contributed to the current uprising. It is noticeable how the demonstrations in Egypt have been spontaneous expressions of frustration by people on the street, and not driven by political opponents. Ironically, the political opposition was extremely ill-prepared for this uprising, and has been unable to capitalise upon it. The Muslim Brotherhood have been virtually invisible throughout the past two weeks of protests, and opposition figure Mohammed El-Baradei was forced to hurry back to Egypt having been away from the country when the protests began.

It is clear that the prospects of political stability and economic prosperity that may have satisfied citizens of Middle Eastern countries in the past, are no longer enough to keep their rulers in power. Engagement of the west has proved to be a double-edged sword. In exchange for the economic benefits that the west has provided, Middle Eastern rulers should have been prepared for the export of democratic ideas and principles to their citizens. Even those countries which have not engaged the west to the same extent are finding that the new Internet age has facilitated the globalisation of democracy. It is for this reason that I suggest that the uprising in Egypt is just the start of similar uprisings in other countries and across the region.

We have already seen the overthrow of the Tunisian government. Protests have been held on the streets of Sana'a in Yemen and Amman in Jordan. Syrian President Bashar El-Assad is clearly thinking about the implications for his country as he has announced that he does not believe that this uprising will reach the streets of Damascus. I think that this is more wishful thinking than firm belief. Syria is clearly a candidate country for a similar uprising in protest against Assad's autocratic rule. The Iranian government is bracing itself for possible protests in Tehran. We may recall that Mir Hossein Mousavi fairly won the previous election, but was denied the office by Ahmadinejad and his thugs. He is now regrouping the opposition parties, and they seem ready to use the current climate to renew their own attempts to assert democracy. It is difficult to rule out possible protests in the Gulf countries and in Saudi Arabia where the monarchs' rule has been absolute. Substantial economic prosperity in these countries arising from oil revenues cannot entirely rule out the possibility of an uprising against their autocratic political regimes.

Indications are that 2011 will represent a major turning point in the Middle Eastern political landscape. Rulers were once able to isolate their citizens from developments elsewhere in the world to secure their own political situation. The Internet and other globalisation tools have changed all of that. People are now able to identify what they are missing out on, and are no longer happy to accept this fact. Those who maintain that western democracy cannot simply be transplanted into all environments, especially those in the Middle East, may well be correct. It is true that many Middle Eastern countries may not be able to successfully apply these principles to their own environments. But now, it is too late for such contentions. The wheel is turning, and its momentum seems unstoppable.


J.Geffen Sr. said...

Does the Uprising in Egypt Open the Floodgates for Other Countries in the Middle East?

Sir do you include Israel ? or is your thoughts towards our arab neighbours
as a leading left leaning jew , i believe that we should follow the example of our arab neigbours and hit the streets and change the power that unfortunately leads us, food prices, fuel prices, each day we take it lying down and sip bitter coffee at the local coffee shop. Tzipi Livni won the last vote and Bibi didn't even congratulate her, instead he made an alliance with the Liber man and look where we are today, the worlds pariah.
your comments please

Anthony Reich said...

Mr. Geffen, thank you for reading my blog and for leaving your comments.

My comments were more directed at our Arab neighbours than at Israel. Even though there are many problems in our country (including the behavour of politicians, prices and the taste of the coffee), we know that after 4 years we can vote the government out and replace it with another. Although our choices are limited (not many upstanding citizens are eager to put themselves forward in a system that is so corrupt), we do at least have a choice. This is something that has been denied our Arab neighbours for many years. It is for this reason that they have been forced to endure endless years of leaders such as Mubarak and Gadaffi.

The issue of our corrupt system, and why we don't really have any attractive choices when we vote, is this subject of a separate discussion.