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Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Warily watching the Arab revolt

By David Ignatius
Thursday, January 27, 2011; 8:00 PM


It's a sign of the times that some Arab journalists attending the gathering of international power brokers here were spending their free time scanning Twitter messages about political protests back home. It's that kind of moment in the Arab world, when people are nervous about anything that is connected to the status quo.

The unrest that toppled a government in Tunisia has spread across the region, with big street demonstrations in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen. It's a movement that appears leaderless - more like a "flash mob." But it shares a common sensibility - the rising expectations of a younger generation that sees global change on the Internet and has momentarily lost its fear of corrupt, autocratic leaders.

"I think it's overdue," says Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who runs the Alwaleed 24-hour news channel, speaking about the street protests in Egypt. "There were reasons for people to get angry 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and now it is here." Indeed, he says, "the Arab world has been seeking renaissance for the last hundred years" but has stalled the last several generations, caught between fear of authoritarian regimes and anger at their corruption.

It's an easy revolution to like, and U.S. officials have wisely endorsed the protesters' goals of openness and reform. But in truth, there's little America could do to bolster the octogenarian Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, even if it wanted to. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may endorse reform, as she did Wednesday, but this is a post-American revolution, encouraged in part by a recognition of the limits of U.S. power.

The unrest follows a series of American failures in the region. President Obama promised change. But he couldn't bring Israel and the Palestinians to a peace agreement, and he couldn't counter Hezbollah in Lebanon or its patron, Iran. America is not the stopper in the bottle anymore, and the Arab man in the street knows it.

U.S. officials are encouraged by the fact that the protesters in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries seem autonomous of the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamic groups. But that may be false comfort; this process is still in its early stages.

History teaches that revolutions are always attractive in their infancy, when freedom is in the air and the rebellion seems spontaneous. But from the French and Russian revolutions to the Iranian uprising of 1979, the idealistic but disorganized street protesters usually give way to a manipulative revolutionary elite - the "Revolutionary Guard," as the Iranians like to call them.

This life cycle of revolution was evoked by scenes of protesters battling riot police in Tahrir Square in Cairo this week. The square's name means liberation, and it was named for Gamal Abdel Nasser's revolution against the monarchy in 1952. But one set of Egyptian autocrats was gradually replaced by another.

Tunisia's deposed president, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, lost his nerve, something that hasn't yet happened with Mubarak. On the very day he fled Tunis, Ben Ali is said to have called a member of the Saudi cabinet for advice. He was told to talk to the protesters, stop shooting and stay in the country. By that night he had fled to Jeddah.

One Arab intelligence analyst speaks of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan as "unviable countries," whose economies can't seem to grow fast enough to meet the demands of their rising young populations. Joe Saddi, the head of Booz-Allen's consulting operations in the Middle East, says that to succeed, Egypt needs India-level annual growth rates of 8 percent or more, rather than its recent 5 percent.

Lebanon is another step into the unknown, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati heading a new government dominated by Hezbollah, the Shiite militia. The Saudis, French and Americans have all bungled efforts to avoid this outcome; for now, they seem likely to let Lebanon stew in its internal political mess and foreign debt. Mikati may seek a middle path, in the classic Lebanese fashion. But one Arab foreign minister is said to have voiced privately what many suspect: The standoff between Hezbollah and its enemies will be resolved only by another war.

In the end, there's a sense of inevitability about this revolution, like a rotten gourd that finally bursts. One Egyptian business executive here warily summed up his feeling about regime change this way to an Arab friend: "Long term, it's good; short term, it's bad." But even that is a piece of optimism about an Arab future that's up for grabs.


Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada

Revolt surprises the West … again

Peter Goodspeed - THE NATIONAL POST - January 28, 2011 – 9:42 pm

Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution is spreading with the same wildfire uncertainty as the tumult that deposed the Shah of Iran 32 years ago.
Then, as now, the United States and the West were caught almost totally by surprise as they witnessed a world they had confidently managed and manipulated suddenly transform itself before their eyes.

The Arab world’s sudden unprecedented demonstrations calling for authoritarian leaders to step down could produce fundamental change, as surely as the thronging thousands in Tehran changed the Middle East with their chants of "Death to America" and "Islam, Islam, Khomeini, we will follow you."

Friday, as Egypt endures its fourth straight day of turmoil, it is easy to believe the crowds clashing with police believe they are eroding the foundations of Arab authoritarianism. Each demonstration, each round of tear gas, each fallen dissident and each Internet-fueled call for further rebellion is empowering and enlisting young people who demand change — even if they have no real idea where that may lead.

Radical Islamists are well placed to take advantage of the confrontations and could easily hijack the Arab world’s fledgling pro-democracy movements. It is not outlandish to predict that if the trouble persists, we in the West could face a perfect storm of radical Islam twisting itself into worldwide revolution.

There are realistic fears Tunisia’s trouble has already spread like a virus to Egypt and Yemen.

Jordan, Algeria, Libya and even Saudi Arabia, whose 86-year-old King Abdullah is recuperating from surgery in Morocco, are all vulnerable to similar conflict.

Lebanon is already facing a sharper, more intense and unpredictable struggle between its pro-Western alliance and the newly installed Hezbollah-backed government.

The longer the Arab world’s turmoil persists, the greater the likelihood those demands for fundamental change in Islamic countries may sweep out of the region into such volatile places as Pakistan.

Karachi, Pakistan’s financial capital, is already boiling with ethnic, religious and political unrest, and the country is haunted by terrorism and an unrelenting religious fundamentalism.

On Friday, a senior Iranian cleric linked the revolution in Tunisia and protests in Egypt and Yemen with Iran’s own revolution.

Addressing thousands of worshippers at Tehran University, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami predicted "an Islamic Middle East is taking shape … based on religious democracy."

A day earlier, Barack Obama, the U.S. President, spoke out for the first time on the riots in Egypt, saying freedom of expression is essential and warning violence is not the answer.

Speaking to a "town hall" of YouTube viewers, Mr. Obama described the U.S.’s long relationship with Egypt and his talks with Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian President.

"I’ve always said to him that making sure that they are moving forward on reform — political reform, economic reform — is absolutely critical to the long-term well-being of Egypt," Mr. Obama said. "And you can see these pent-up frustrations that are being displayed on the streets."

For a faint moment, Mr. Obama sounded as uncertain as then-president Jimmy Carter did when he tried to politely distance himself from the Shah.

And the crowds in Egypt, as in Iran in the past, may pose as sharp a rebuke to the West’s past indifference as they do a challenge to our Arab world’s authoritarian allies.

National Post

source: http://news.nationalpost.com/2011/01/28/goodspeed-analysis-revolt-surprises-the-west-again/


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Radical Islamists are well placed to take advantage of the confrontations and could easily hijack the Arab world’s fledgling pro-democracy movements. It is not outlandish to predict that if the trouble persists, we in the West could face a perfect storm of radical Islam twisting itself into worldwide revolution.

Addressing thousands of worshippers at Tehran University, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami predicted "an Islamic Middle East is taking shape … based on religious democracy."

This evening on Al Jazeera there was an interview of 3 young Egyptians and 1 young woman from Tunisia. The Tunisian woman had already a sense of the gravity of what happened last week, an awareness that being on the cusp of change is risky business. The 3 young Egyptians, all somehow professionally involved in the Twitter/mobile/Internet industry were still feeling that cresting emotion one feels when one has a hand in reversing the course of history. They were speaking of dignity and freedom. But they were also saying that it mattered little who would take the reins of power next, or what political party might step in -- so convinced they were that the future could only take them in the direction of more freedom, more economic self-determination, more personal political impact. They expressed joy that no political or religious agenda provoked events. They expressed pride that this was a revolution of people from many economic levels and social classes all joined in common cause. They declared that the networking among citizens on the streets and in the mosques could overwhelm any damage done by shutting down the Internet. A clean break with the past, standing as they put it on the cusp of a new world! And they are too young to remember how all of these same hopes and ideals for the future panned out in 1978 in Iran. I hope they are right.

YouTube - Inside Story - Egypt: The youth perspective
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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
For now

Young, educated and underemployed: the face of the Arab world's protesters

Images of unrest from the streets of Egypt and Tunisia this month revealed mostly male crowds of protesters in jeans and leather jackets, hoodies and argyle sweaters, baseball caps and flannel shirts – not exactly the bearded Islamist traditionally associated with revolt in the Arab world.

Who are these people and what are they fighting for? They are the young and unemployed, or underemployed, many with advanced degrees struggling to find jobs to support themselves and their families. Many have lived their entire lives under the same leader and want change, believing that it will lead to a better life.

Muslim-majority countries in North Africa and the Middle East have the highest percentage of young people in the world, with 60 percent of the regions' people under 30, according to study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

With unemployment rates at 10 percent or more, those countries also have the highest regional rates of joblessness in the world, reports an article published in "Foreign Policy" titled, "The Arab World's Youth Army."

The article highlights the stories of Tunisians in their 20s who took to the streets last month to protest corruption in various levels of government and a lack of meaningful opportunities. One young man with a master's degree in computer science described a daily routine of internet job searches at a coffee shop in Sidi Bouzid, home of 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit seller who burned himself to death after bribe-seeking police took his products, effectively sparking Tunisia's uprising.

The young man's high school economics teacher estimated that just 5% of his students from the young man's class have found jobs since completing high school.

In the streets of Egypt, CNN spoke with several protesters who shared similar grievances, especially after President Hosni Mubarak announced Friday that he had asked his government to resign without giving any indication that he planned to step down.

"We are one of the richest Arab countries and we want to live. Let a new government form, but if we don't get what we ask for, we will go back to the streets again and again" said Mohammed, a 20-year-old student.

Yousef, an 18-year-old taxi driver, credited the Tunisia uprising with spurring Egyptians into action.

"We don't care if a new government rules for 100 years to come. We just want a good, honest government. (President Zine El Abidine) Ben Ali said he understood the Tunisians and what did the Tunisians do? They kept protesting until he fled the country. We will do more and more, we will continue our demonstrations and we will do 3,000 times more of what the Tunisians did," he said.

"Mubarak needs to resign and some of the regime figures need to be arrested and they need to face trial. We demand justice. Some of the parliamentary figures are good, some are just corrupt and they need to face justice. We don't need the same ministers with different posts. We need new elections."

Of course, the problem is not exclusive to the twentysomethings of the Arab world, but the complaints are the same. A resident of Shubra, an impoverished neighborhood in Cairo, said his chief concerns were corruption and economic hardship.

He spoke about the rising prices of staples such as rice, wheat and bread. He was dismissive of Mubarak's promises to bring about reform and vowed to continue protesting.

"We do not want him or the government or the parliament and we want all the corrupt people of this country to be tried for every penny they stole from this country," he said.

"We went out today and we were ready to die so our children can live with dignity."

– CNN's Saad Abedine and Salma Abdelaziz contributed to this report.

Jan 6, 2005
Metro-Vancouver, B.C., Canada
Globe Editorial

Mubarak doesn’t get it

From Saturday's Globe and Mail - January 29, 2010

Public order in Egypt – the watchword and raison d'être of Hosni Mubarak – is crumbling, after a day of mass protest and a night of defiance of a national curfew. The protesters' grievances have focused on Mr. Mubarak, and they will not go away with the sacrifice of his hand-picked Prime Minister. However it organizes itself in this volatile time, the regime needs to respond with an end to the emergency law and with greater freedom, including truly democratic reforms.

The abdication of leadership was shameful and total. Ludicrously, Mr. Mubarak took credit for the protests, saying the freedoms he allowed made them possible, despite laws that prohibit such assembly, and a record of suppression of organized political parties demonstrated as recently as this November's parliamentary elections. He presented himself as a pharaoh figure, as the only possible, legitimate ruler of Egypt, standing above the unseemly conduct of his government. He proposed no new meaningful reforms or plans for a democratic succession.

Mr. Mubarak is apparently counting on an old assumption – that Egyptians are fundamentally passive, bowing to unchallenged authority if that authority can buy quiescence by keeping prices low for such staples as food and gas. Surely events have proved such a posture inadvisable.

These protests were different from the proto-democratic movements of Egypt's recent past, which rarely registered more than a thousand protesters. The turnout on Friday was in the tens of thousands. Women joined in surprising numbers. It will be a great challenge for any regime to completely bottle up the popular sentiment – both frustration and hope – that has been unleashed.

Egypt matters because it is the Arab world's largest country, its cultural and geopolitical heart, and an essential bulwark that allows for Israel's continued peaceful existence and for a taming of radical Islamism. Not only do its people deserve a peaceful, orderly transition to democracy; its allies must insist on it. And if Tunisians help to inspire the Egyptians, Egyptians could provide an incalculable inspiration to the rest of the Arab world.

There are many minefields ahead, as opportunistic radicals and religious hardliners will seek to tap into these largely leaderless movements for illiberal purposes.

Egyptians, however, are already showing a patriotic resilience. According to reports last night, the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party were torched and ransacked. But the nearby Museum of Egyptian Antiquities was surrounded by protesters, as they sought to protect its contents
source: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/editorials/mubarak-doesnt-get-it/article1887060/



Freedom for the Arab world

National Post · Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011

Democracy has been the dominant form of political organization in Canada and other Englishspeaking countries for so long that we often forget just how historically unusual it is. Until the establishment of Europe's first Parliaments and constitutions, strongman rule was simply part of the human condition. For several billion people on the planet, it still is.

During the 20th century, democracy gradually spread to other parts of the world, including such giants as India and Japan. Toward the end of the century, political freedom came also to much of South America, Indonesia, South Korea, the former Soviet bloc (excluding Belarus and, under Vladimir Putin, Russia itself ), and even, fitfully and bloodily, sub-Saharan Africa.

Yet throughout all this, a single corner of the globe stubbornly persisted as a black hole on freedom's map: At the dawn of the 21st century, not a single nation in the 22-member Arab League could be described as a true Western-style democracy.

What explains this anomaly? Arabists emphasize Western colonialism and U.S. support for convenient autocrats (such as Egypt's besieged Hosni Mubarak). But many other parts of the world that are now flourishing democracies were once colonized, too. Moreover, some parts of the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia, were never subject to colonial occupation.

Another explanation revolves around oil -- a commodity that tends to enrich and empower the small elite that controls its extraction, without providing much in the way of jobs and upward mobility to the masses. Yet Syria, which has little oil, is just as autocratic as Libya, which has plenty. So that doesn't provide a complete answer either.

Others have focused on the influence of Islam. Unlike Christendom, Islamic civilization has never embraced the doctrine of separation between church and state, nor religious pluralism, nor equality between men and women, nor individualism -- all essential components of modern democracy.

And yet, Muslim Indonesia is a democracy; as is (with several asterisks) Muslim Turkey. Even Iran has a strong grassroots democratic movement, albeit one crushed under the Ayatollahs' jackboots. So it cannot be said that Islam is entirely incompatible with democracy.
Perhaps the only complete explanation is that democracy simply has been alien to Arab political culture for a host of reasons, including those listed above. But that culture is changing -- and it is changing fast.

When the history of the Arab democratic revolution is written -- whether in a month, a year or a decade -- a sacrosanct place will be reserved for Mohammed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old Tunisian street peddler who immolated himself last month after enduring a litany of abuses from the country's unaccountable bureaucrats and police. His plight symbolized the quiet, simmering sense of imprisonment felt by millions of his countrymen -- and his name was on the lips of the protesters who brought down the nation's government. The fuse that he lit has made its way to powder kegs in Algeria, Yemen, Jordan and -- most significantly -- Egypt, by far the most populous state in the Arab world.

Yet Mr. Bouazizi's tragic, desperate act did not take place in a vacuum. For years, Arabs have been learning that dictatorship -- whether under Nasser-cloned nationalists or Saudi-style Wahabbists -- is not the only way. They know this from surfing the Internet, and watching Al Jazeera and other satellite television networks, which show them scenes their leaders do not want them to see; scenes such as Iraqis going to the polls after Saddam Hussein had been deposed by George W. Bush's armies in 2003. They also watched the casting out of Lebanon's Syrian occupiers in 2005. These are scenes that make pharaohs shudder.

These new media have been saturated with incendiary coverage of Israel, too, of course. But viewers also have seen the other side of the coin: Hamas turning Gaza into a fundamentalist appendage to Iran, not to mention the corruption of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Since 9/11, viewers also have seen al-Qaeda terrorists perpetrate carnage against Muslim civilians far more horrible than any outrage committed by Israelis. This helps explain why Islamists seem to be on the margin of this week's protests: Most ordinary citizens want freedom, not an Arab version of the Taliban.

It is telling that neither the North African protesters nor their autocratic targets are mentioning any of the usual anti-Israeli conspiracy theories in their media war. The Jewish state, long a demagogic obsession in the region, has disappeared from the headlines entirely.

This is a sign of a people that finally appears to be taking control of its own destiny, and so no longer needs outsiders to blame.

No one knows how the drama in Egypt -- or any other Arab nation -- will unfold in the short term. Political revolutions are unpredictable. But in the long run, we all know how this drama will one day end: With the Arab world joining the rest of the globe on the march to democracy. And the images that fill our TV screens today suggest that destination may be closer than many Arabs only recently dared hope.

The hearts of all free people are with the protesters. May their campaign be victorious, short and bloodless.

source: http://www.nationalpost.com/opinion/Freedom+Arab+world/4188587/story.html



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