Friday, January 28, 2011


The PNAC neocons are likely to suggest that the US invasion of Iraq served as a catalyst for the uprisings and protests now sweeping the Middle East. Glenn Beck will refer to an organized Islamic conspiracy to unite all Moslem nations under one banner and take over the world. Rush Limbaugh will say that Democrats are behind the unrest as part of a plan to insure Obama’s re-election. Sarah Palin will tweet that the fuss has to do with Michelle Obama’s efforts to curb childhood obesity.

The reality of course has nothing to do with any of the above. The demonstrations and riots are about brutal economic oppression and the growing inequality between rich and poor, fueled by increasing outrage over unemployment, food inflation, corruption, freedom of speech, and poor living conditions.

Egypt is currently capturing the limelight, but this is bigger than Egypt, where what is happening would probably not be taking place without the recent development in Tunisia, which overthrew President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali on January 14. Granted, Egypt is no Tunisia, but the events are connected and extend across the region. At least ten self-immolation attempts occurred in Algeria just in the week from January 12 to January 19, most associated with the lack of housing. In Jordon, protesters enraged over widespread hunger called for Prime Minister Samir Rifai to step down with cries, “Beware of our starvation and fury!”

Though small, protests in Jordon occurred today as well. In Yemen, protests occurred in multiple cities including Sanaa University where a slogan read, “Leave before you are forced to leave.”

Protesters have also set themselves on fire in Mauritania and Saudi Arabia. Sudan is facing a secessionist referendum, and across the Mediterranean, Albania is facing increasing pressure from its opposition parties. has a terrific sequence of photographs of the developments in Tunisia, Lebanon, and Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak’s grasp is slipping. Facebook pages called for January 25 to be a "day of revolution against torture, poverty, corruption, and unemployment." Egypt has virtually shut down all Internet, all cell phones, all messaging, and it has brought in the army to clamp down on the crowds. Curiously, many of the protesters think the army is on their side.

From a Daily Beast article on Egypt:

Dalia Ziada, a popular 29-year-old Egyptian blogger, noted, "Men and women are standing side-by-side in calling for their rights."

You don’t see political flags [in the crowds],” said Ahmed Samih, an activist who directs an Internet radio station in Cairo. “You don’t see the Muslim Brotherhood. You see Egyptians. You see the flags of Egyptians all over the place."

Or as Ziada put it: "All you have is an idea."

Marco Vicenzino, director of the Global Strategy Project, is suggesting that Mubarak, 82, step down peacefully in a way the prevents additional bloodshed, including his own.

Of course, countries like Iran don't have to worry about anything like this.


Anonymous Observer said...

This is a lot bigger than Egypt.

Mubarak has asked the government to resign, as if they, not he, are the problem.

The numbers of the dead and wounded continue to climb.

1/28/2011 4:15 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

I don't know quite what to make of all this. Obviously, it would be great to see some truly democratic movements lead to government reform in North Africa and the mid-East ... but I don't know how likely it is to happen as a result of what we've seen in Tunisia and Egypt (and, to a smaller extent, Yemen, Jordan, etc.).

I don't think expectations for this should get too high. I remember being very excited when the Tiananmen Square protests first began, and avidly following the related events. Ultimately, though, the Chinese government cracked down, and cracked down hard.

While China is more "free" (both in the political and economic sense) than it was in the 1980's, that's only a matter of degree. By no standard is China a democratic government or a free market economy. In fact, in the initial aftermath of Tiananmen Square the Chinese government attempt to crack down on what free market reforms were in effect at the time. This crack down failed, but for other reasons unrelated to the protest.

Similarly, it's unclear to me what effects the Iranian student protests of late 2009 have had within Iran at this point, no matter how dramatic they appeared at the time.

Ultimately, I suspect any significant changes in these countries will not come about for decades, as the ideas which are planted in the minds of the younger generation know possibly come to fruition far down the road, as the current governing generation ages out, and the current younger generation becomes the governing generation.

1/29/2011 6:10 AM  
Blogger The Navigator said...

I almost completely agree with Sirocco's sentiments, and of course his hesitancy is well founded. What a year 1989 was, when the Soviet bloc just crumbled and people united in the streets for a better world. I remember being so excited when the Berlin Wall fell, crying at the photos of the people tearing it down. When the student uprising at Tiananmen Square that same year was crushed, I was pretty burned. I really thought we were seeing the fall of ALL communism in 1989. This is not 1989.

This is also not 1979. As x4mr points out, these uprisings are not rooted in religious ferver or the worship of some inspirational religious figure. They are all about quality of life and a sense of fairness or as x4mr says, “Equity.”

The United States has always preferred greedy, power hungry dictatorships, which can be bought, over religious fanatics, which are less interested in US corporate profits. I imagine people are nervous over what replaces the existing regimes should any of them fall. Just because the people are not driven by religious ferver doesn't mean a religious based group couldn't exploit the situation to seize power.

I think a very important factor in what happens in these nations is the sentiment and allegiance of the military, especially in Egypt. Will they really remain loyal to one old man (almost 83) and butcher hundreds or thousands on his behalf just to keep him in power? One would think that if the right person/people approached the army with the right set of promises, Mubarak is done for.

Something else in all of this that none of us, in my opinion, can really know is the role of social media technology and the flow of information, and as Sirocco mentioned, the extent to which this is young vs. old.

1/29/2011 9:38 AM  
Blogger Liza said...

Juan Cole explains Egypt.

Good article.

1/30/2011 10:37 AM  
Blogger Liza said...

Interesting analysis of what might happen in Egypt posted on, No 'Berlin Moment' in Egypt.

1/30/2011 11:17 AM  
Anonymous New Anon said...

Hello x4mr:
This is a very sharp blog.

I've read back into your history a ways, and you have some sharp readers as well. Good for you.

You use the term "Intifada" and refer to PNAC, which very few people would recognize, yet I am just certain that Liza, Sirocco, Navigator, and probably the rest of your readers know completely.

Liza links to solid work on what is happening, and Navigator is right. What happens in Egypt is in the hands of the army, and the army knows this.

X4mr is also right that we are going to hear a bunch of bullshit about how these uprisings vindicate Bush's claim that establishing democracy in Iraq would cause democracy to flourish in the Middle East.

Well, let me know when democracy is flourishing in the Middle East.

Let me know when it's flourishing in Iraq.

This is not 1979 Iran, 1989 Eastern Europe or China, or 2010 Iran. It is 2011 in a twittering facebook world that is sick of watching a tiny handful get everything while the rest do without.

1/30/2011 9:53 PM  
Anonymous Observer said...

Sure enough, x4mr, Glenn Beck is now saying that this is the beginning of the Muslim takeover of the world.

No word yet from Sarah Palin on why Michelle Obama's war on obesity is causing the Middle East uprising, but give her some time.

2/02/2011 7:44 AM  
Blogger TexPatriate said...

I suspect that this is the beginning of what happened in Dubai and the UAE. Students left their countries and were educated in the West -- both in the U.S. and in Britain -- and began to see how capitalism might benefit an entire nation instead of a theocracy or a dictatorship.

I remain hopeful that the organizers and protesters are able to affect real change in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen -- not just because an educated population increases benefits for all, but also because that same educated population is a little more resistant to militant Islamic fundamentalism.

Educated women, especially, are more able to change both circumstances for themselves and for their progeny.

God/Allah/Flying Spaghetti Monster willing. . .

2/04/2011 12:05 PM  
Anonymous Richard Tackett said...

The kind of violence we've seen in Egypt over the past few days has spun the situation completely out of control. It was a harsh thing to spray praying protestors with water hoses, but molotov cocktails in the streets? Mubarak"s "transition" is certainly not boding well for Egypt.

CNN broadcasted a video that allegedly shows a police van mowing down protestors. Insanity:

We've seen this kind of stuff in other nations, but I can't help but think that if Egypt topples via violence then we will see a sustained period of unrest in the area.

2/04/2011 12:59 PM  
Blogger Sirocco said...

If Egypt topples it likely won't be because of violence - the protesters have, to a great extent, been peaceful.

No, if the regime remains it will likely be due to violence. If the regime topples, it will most likely because it couldn't instigate enough violence - specifically it couldn't get the military to actively support it, or at least step out of the way while the police forcefully put down the protests.

2/04/2011 1:46 PM  

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