By Panel Pemikir, Dr.Abang Azhari Hadari
OVERVIEWThe revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests has been taking place in the Arab world since 18 December 2010. To date, there have been revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt; a civil war in Libya; civil uprisings in Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen; major protests in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, and Oman, as well as on the borders of Israel; and minor protests in Kuwait, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Western Sahara.
The protests have shared techniques of civil resistance in sustained campaigns involving strikes, demonstrations, marches and rallies, as well as the use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, to organize, communicate, and raise awareness in the face of state attempts at repression and internet censorship. Many demonstrations have also met violent responses from authorities.
The Tunisian Revolution or Jasmine Revolution began on 18 Dec. 2010 after Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old Tunisian man, set himself on fire in front of a local municipal office. According to Aljazeera, earlier that day, Tunisian police confiscated his cart because he did not have a permit and beat him. He went to the municipal office to file a complaint where workers there ignored him. Bouazizi then set himself on fire.
Small scale demonstrations began in Sidi Bouzid, Bouazizi’s hometown, and spread throughout the country. According to Aljazeera English, “Bouazizi's act of desperation highlights the public's boiling frustration over living standards, police violence, rampant unemployment, and a lack of human rights.” Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali became president of Tunisia in 1987 and “tried to calm the situation by promising more freedoms, including a right to demonstrate, and announcing that he would not seek re-election when his current term ends in 2014.
Following the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, Egyptian activist organized a demonstration on Jan 25 2011. The protests began in Cairo, Egypt and spread throughout the country. According to Aljazeera’s Timeline, the protests gained more strength when widespread strikes happened throughout the country. Jack Shenker writing for the Guardian described Downtown Cairo as a “war zone” filled “with running street battles.” Pro-Mubarak supporters, according to Wikipedia, escalated the violence when they rode on camels and horses into Tahrir (Liberation) Square. The Mubarak government tried to crush protest with armed forces loyal to him and plain clothed men and when those tactics failed, state media depict protesters as foreign agents. The government also targeted foreign journalist and human rights workers. However, during the Protests, Muslims and Christian Egyptians demonstrated unity, according to Wikipedia’s timeline, Muslims protected Christian demonstrators during Sunday service.
On Feb 11, Hosni Mubarak resigned his presidency and handed power to the army.
The uprising in Libya instantly became violent when the Libyan government reacted harshly towards peaceful protests. On Feb 18, three days after the protests began, the country erupted into an armed conflict when protesters executed policemen and men loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi for killing protesters.
According to Aljazeera English, the Libyan government, on Feb 19, used artillery, helicopter gunships and antiaircraft missile launchers to kill protesters. The government’s forces also opened fire on people attending a funeral for those killed in the protests. Aljazeera reported 15 people killed in the protests.
Col. Gaddafi was in power since 1969, making him the longest-serving ruler in Africa and the Middle East. Throughout the recent protests, Gaddafi continues to hold onto power. According to Aljazeera English, “critics dismissed his leadership as a military dictatorship, accusing him of repressing civil society and ruthlessly crushing dissident.” The move to attack civilians has cost Gaddafi many of his close advisors and military. Reuters reported soldiers defecting to support protesters and because they refuse to shoot on their own people.
Protests in Jordan began late January and escalated on March 25 when one man died of a heart attack and over 100 protestors were injured. The protests in Jordan differ from Tunisia and Egypt because they don’t want to oust their monarch. A Jordanian man, interviewed by the Washington Post, said, "I cannot imagine the country without the royal family. They strike a balance between the people and the government. I trust them."
The main goals of the protests were to lower food prices, amend the electoral law- free and fair elections, ending government corruption and a responsible and representative government. King Abdullah in return dissolved the parliament and removed Prime Minister Samir Rifai.
Palestinians in Jordan constitute more than half of the country’s population and this dynamic partly explains why Jordanians have shied away from calling for regime change; for the Hashemites are widely seen as guarantors of stability in the face of Israeli extremists’ calls for the establishment of a substitute Palestinian state in Jordan.
The protests for democracy, influenced by other regional upheavals, erupted in Bahrain on Feb 14. The movement, like many others, began online. Almost 30 people were killed since the beginning of the protests and according to Reuters, “Bahrain has stepped up arrests of cyber activists and Shi'ites, with more than 300 detained and dozens missing since it launched a crackdown on pro-democracy protests…” The equivalent to Egypt’s Liberation Square, Bahrain’s Peal roundabout became the symbol of the uprising says Reuters.
The protesters are calling for more political freedom, but the protests hit on sensitive gulf issues because it is dominated by Shi’ite Muslims. According to Reuters, “Bahrain’s largest Shi'ite opposition group Wefaq accepted Kuwait's offer to mediate in talks with the government to end the political crisis.” Troops from Saudi Arabia have also intervened to cool the uprising.
Similar to Jordan, protests in Saudi Arabia are directed towards more freedoms than ousting the monarchy. The protests, in comparison, are relatively small ranging from 100 to 4000 people. However, King Abdullah, according to Aljazeera, “has tried to head off unrest in the kingdom with a series of economic reforms ... [which] include housing subsidies; unemployment benefits; and a programme to give permanent contracts to temporary government workers. State employees will receive 15 per cent raises.”
On June 17, the anti-government movement "Women2Drive" has organized a drive-in to demand fairer treatment of women in the country. It was sparked by the arrest and imprisonment of Manal al-Sharif for driving a vehicle with another woman. Reports of desperation within the government surfaced as the rally is expected to highlight one of the worst gender rights' regimes in the world. On June 9, several women were arrested north of Riyadh for practicing in a parking lot. On June 15, female drivers in the United States have organized a protest in solidarity with Saudi women, planning to encircle the Saudi embassy in Foggy Bottom. During the month three females from Minnesota, supported by an advocacy group, announced a gender discrimination complaint against the kingdom's livery services in Rochester to coincide with the "Women2Drive" campaign.
Protests in Syria, though on a small scale, faced harsh retaliations from the government. The protest began in January after another young man lit himself on fire and groups began organizing on social media sites. They picked up speed on March 16 with a small group of protesters, but security forces quickly and violently ended them.
The protesters are calling for freedom, human rights and the end to the emergency law. In efforts to calm protesters, President of Syria Bashar al-Assad dissolved the government in Daraa, where the protests originated. Al-Assad is looking to replace the emergency law with a new anti-terrorism law. The emergency law in Syria has been in place since Al-Assad came to power in 1963. The Emergency law bans oppositional parties.
According to Al Jazeera English, the uprisings in Yemen began on Jan. 27, 2011. 16,000 citizens lined the streets of the capital city of Sanaa, calling for an end to the 32 year-long rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh. The original protests were inspired by the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia. Yemen is the poorest country in the world, which also serves as a fuel for anger for the Yemeni people.
Despite the fact that Saleh is a brutal dictator, he is also a great ally of the United States, akin to the former U.S.-Egypt relationship with Hosi Mubarak. Yemen's citizens are the poorest in the Arab world, and Yemen, for all its talk about being a republic, is a particularly nasty dictatorship, complete with the usual secret police and torture and general repression. The US role in Yemen is also extremely controversial and shouldn't be underestimated as a contributing factor in the uprising against Saleh. On 5 June, Saleh left the country to get medical treatment in Saudi Arabia, and according to BBC, it is unlikely that he will return to Yemen.
Numerous factors have led to the protests, including the 2009 Iranian protests, dictatorship or absolute monarchy, human rights violations, government corruption (demonstrated by Wikileaks diplomatic cables), economic decline, unemployment, extreme poverty, and a number of demographic structural factors, such as a large percentage of educated but dissatisfied youth within the population. The catalysts for the revolts in all Northern African and Persian Gulf countries have been the concentration of wealth in the hands of autocrats in power for decades, insufficient transparency of its redistribution, corruption, and especially the refusal of the youth to accept the status quo. Increasing food prices and global famine rates have also been a significant factor, as they involve threats to food security worldwide and prices that approach levels of the 2007–2008 world food price crisis. Amnesty International singled out Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables as a catalyst for the revolts.
In recent decades rising living standards and literacy rates, as well as the increased availability of higher education, have resulted in an improved human development index in the affected countries. The tension between rising aspirations and a lack of government reform may have been a contributing factor in all of the protests. Many of the internet-savvy youth of these countries have studied in the West, where autocrats and absolute monarchies are considered anachronisms. A university professor of Oman, Al-Najma Zidjaly referred to this upheaval as youthquake.
Many analysts, journalists, and involved parties have focused on the protests as being a uniquely Arab phenomenon, and indeed, protests and uprisings have been strongest and most wide-reaching in majority-Arab countries, giving rise to the popular moniker of Arab Spring—a play on the so-called 1968 Prague Spring, a democratic awakening in what was then communist Czechoslovakia—to refer to protests, uprisings, and revolutions in those states.
IMPACT OF ARAB REVOLT
The regional unrest has not been limited to countries of the Arab world. The early success of uprisings in North Africa inspired disenchanted people in the Middle Eastern states of Iran and Turkey to take to the streets and agitate for reforms. These protests, especially those in Iran, are considered by many commentators to be part of the same wave that began in Tunisia and has gripped the broader Middle Eastern and North African regions, even though those countries are not Arab-majority states and most of the protesters therein are not Arab, as exemplified by the Kurdish protests in Turkey.
In the countries of the neighboring South Caucasus—namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia—as well as some countries in Europe, including Albania, Croatia, and Spain; countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Burkina Faso, Djibouti, and Uganda; and countries in other parts of Asia, including the Maldives and the People's Republic of China, demonstrators and opposition figures claiming inspiration from the examples of Tunisia and Egypt have staged their own popular protests.
Elsewhere in the region, Israel is nervous about the demise of Mubarak. Turkey fears instability in Syria.
The Saudis are investing to create jobs and defuse dissent. Jordan and Morocco have tried liberal gestures. Algeria's oil wealth and experience of civil war have helped maintain peace there. But it is striking how Arab unrest has become a permanent feature of the global landscape. It is unfinished business wherever it is happening. "The outcome of this tectonic realignment is not just unpredictable but unknowable," said Prince Hassan of Jordan.
As many of the world's major oil producing countries are in the Middle East, the unrest has caused a rise in oil prices, causing the 2011 energy crisis. The International Monetary Fund accordingly revised its forecast for 2011 oil prices to reflect a higher price, and also reported that food prices could also increase. Additionally, concerns about Egypt's Suez Canal have raised shipping and oil prices.
The World Bank's June 2011 Global Economic Prospects report estimates that the turmoil may reduce growth in the region by 1 percent or more.
WHO IS NEXT?
In an attempt to quantify the likelihood of regime change in Arab World countries following the protests, The Economist Intelligence Unit created an index of unrest in the Arab world. According to their index, Yemen has the highest likelihood of a revolution, whereas Qatar has the lowest. The index factors in the number of years the current ruler has been in power, the percentage of the population consisting of young people, per capita GDP, democracy index, political corruption, and freedom of the press.
The wave of revolution sweeping the Arab world bears a striking resemblance to previous political earthquakes. As in Europe in 1848, rising food prices and high unemployment have fueled popular protests across the Middle East. As in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1989, frustration with closed, corrupt, and unresponsive political systems has led to defections among elites and the fall of once powerful regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and perhaps Libya. But as Professor Jack A. Goldstone at George Mason University's School of Public Policy puts it, the revolutions of 2011 are fighting something quite different: "sultanistic" dictatorships. He says it is no coincidence that although popular protests have shaken much of the Middle East, the only revolutions to succeed so far - those in Tunisia and Egypt - have been against modern sultans. Among the most famous in recent history were Mexico's Porfirio Diaz, Iran's Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos etc. The new generation of sultans in the Middle East - including Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Muammar al Qaddafi in Libya, and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen.
According to Professor Goldstone, for a revolution to succeed, 1) the government must appear extremely unjust or inept that it is widely viewed as a threat to the country's future; 2) elites (especially the military) must be alienated from the state and no longer willing to defend it; 3) a broad-based section of the population, spanning ethnic and religious groups and socioeconomic classes must mobilize; and 4) international powers must either refuse to step in to defend the government or constrain it from using maximum force to defend itself.
It is said that these conditions rarely coincide and that is why revolutions rarely triumph. This is especially the case in traditional monarchies and one-party systems, whose leaders often manage to maintain popular support by making appeals to respect for royal tradition or nationalism. Elites, who are often enriched by such governments, will only forsake them if their circumstances or the ideology of the rulers changes drastically. Again, broad-based popular mobilization is difficult to achieve because it requires bridging the disparate interests of the urban and rural poor, the middle class, students, professionals, and different ethnic or religious groups. Finally, more often than not other countries intervene to support embattled leaders.
The revolutions unfolding across the Middle East represent the breakdown of increasing corrupt sultanistic regimes. Fast-growing and urbanizing populations in the Middle East have been hurt by low wages and by food prices that rose by 32 percent in the last year alone, according to the UNFAO. Meanwhile, there is high unemployment, the persistence of widespread and unrelieved poverty amid increasingly extravagant wealth.
At this point in time, Sudan and Syria, the other sultanistic states in the region, have not seen major popular protests. Yet Bashir’s corruption and the concentration of wealth in Khartoum have become blatant. In Syria, Assad has so far retained nationalist support because of his hard-line policies toward Israel and Lebanon. Although it is hard to say how staunch the elite and military support for Bashir and Assad is, both regimes are probably even weaker than they appear and could crumble in the face of broad-based protests.
The region’s monarchies are more likely to retain power. This is not because they face no calls for change. But because their political structures are flexible in that they can retain considerable executive power while ceding legislative power to elected parliaments. In times of unrest, crowds are more likely to protest for legislative change than for abandonment of the monarchy. This gives monarchs more room to maneuver to pacify the people. This can be seen in countries like Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Jordan. The rulers will likely be able to stay in office if they are willing to share their power with the elected officials or hand the reins to a younger family member who wants to reform.