End of Mubarak rule isn’t end of problem

February 11, 2011

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

By Pierre Briançon

This won’t be the best of weekends for Middle Eastern autocrats. The forced departure of Egypt’s 30-year president Hosni Mubarak, less than 24 hours after he pledged to stay in power, gives victory to the Tahrir square protesters. Other dictators will worry about the trend. After all, it was only last month that the Tunisian despot Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced from office.

Markets took the Mubarak news with relief, having plunged earlier on fears that he would obstinately cling to power, and his country might descend into uncontrolled violence.

But the relief rally may be premature. The fact that Mubarak is gone does not automatically mean that calm will return. Nor does it guarantee a smooth transition to a more democratic regime and the rule of law. Emboldened protesters in neighbouring states may also confront other potentates in highly unpredictable showdowns. In a politically combustible region, similar sparks could ignite very different fires.

For the unpleasant truth is that, in Egypt and elsewhere, the likelihood of persistent chaos is higher than that of an orderly transition. Panicked dictators can react in a dangerous way, while the absence of civil society and durable political parties can easily lead to anarchy, perhaps civil war. The end result might be that one dictatorship is replaced by another.  Look at Algeria, a Mediterranean country blessed by oil and scarred by poverty: who could predict what would happen there if a confrontation between Islamic parties and the army rekindled the civil war of the nineties?

So, markets beware. Consider what would happen if the Suez canal was closed, if oil supplies were hit by protests in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province, or if, say, a radical Islamic movement was to take over in one of Northern Africa’s countries. True, oil doesn’t have the same importance today as in 1973 and 1979, when major oil shocks followed the geopolitical upheaval of the last Egypt-Israeli war, and the Iranian revolution.  But a major disruption of oil supplies retains its capacity to seriously hurt Western economies.

In the longer term, there’s no doubt that more democratic regimes will bring more stability and more prosperity to the region. But it will take some time to get there. In the meantime, global investors should tighten their seat belts.

Comments

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The crisis in the Middle East is Iran,backed by Russia and China.It is important to take into account that Iran is a military viability in the region.Oil is as you pointed out the achilles heel of Western Democracies-particularly the American Empire.This is how it will unfold-North Korea will attack South Korea-Iran will invade Iraq and route the thinly dispersed American garrison-China will call in its loans along with other financial sanctions against America and Europe-Israel will panic and attack Iran as it engulfs the region into chaos driving oil to 500USD a barell-the DJIA will get shut off-and as the crisis is prolonged because Putins Russia will prevent America and Europe from using its wonder-weopons to destroy North Korea and Iran-Americans will sit around wondering why there is no gas at the pump and why the grocerie store is empty-from there you can imagine the rest.

Posted by Veers2006 | Report as abusive
 

one day the usa may experance the same thing that is happining in other countries.the way is clear that the ureo is taking over in the us stock market.the dollar will soon be a thing of the past,an our dollar will be useless.the things that happening in the mideast may spreed to the united states with the fall of our wayof life in the us.if it can happen there it will happen here.once the ball starts rolling it could roll in the us of a .tppatton

Posted by tppatton | Report as abusive
 

Who will lead Egypt now? Will this create a more powerful foothold for radical Islamic groups? As happy as I am for the citizens of Egypt, I question where the future of western society will be……

Posted by hexagon | Report as abusive
 

For God’s sake – not another gloomy scenario!

We just finished battling the Islamic fundamentalist specter, which was held up around the world to garner support for Mubarak’s oppressive regime. And yet, against all odds Egyptians still successfully and peacefully toppled a tyrannical and corrupt regime – a regime, Mr. Briancon, which was backed by Western countries such as yours because a stable supply of oil (amongst other things) far outweighs empty rhetoric Western governments make about basic human rights and democracy for all. The VAST majority of Egyptians believe in, and yearn for, democracy, liberty, justice and integrity. Over the past 20 days we proved that these desires transcend differences in our religions, social brackets, age, gender and political views. We are a peace-loving nation. Shame on you Mr. Briancon for offering up yet another gloomy specter in order to sabotage this peaceful revolution with the sole aim of a flow of oil to the West. Can you not trust that stability and democracy in the region will benefit all?

Posted by SamJan25 | Report as abusive
 

Mr. Briancon, your article does not at all honor the monumental effort deployed by the youth of Egypt and its population to oust the 30 years old despot. Instead it looks at a very narrow and gloomy and obsolete view regarding worries about totally subjective and hypothetical scenarios such as closing Suez Canal… Why isn’t the world more interested in pressuring Israel to conclude a fair Peace with all its neighbors? Wouldn’t that give the World enough stability in an area rich with oil and other resources? What about ending the Iraq occupation? Wouldn’t that cause more stability? What about promoting democracy and rule of law in the Middle East? Wouldn’t that be the best guarantee for market stability instead of relying on old, corrupt and senile rulers or is democracy a right only in the First World and a luxury in the third World? Is it not time for the First World countries to start treating the rest of the World as equal and its populations to have the same right?

Posted by Rcameltoueg | Report as abusive
 

Mr. Briancon
While I agree that getting rid of Mubarak was only the first step in a long journey, I do not agree with the generally gloomy outlook or picture that you have painted. Sure there’s a risk of chaos, no doubt. However, that risk was there even with Mubarak, since he apparently thought that he’d live forever or that he’d be able to engineer the succession of his son. In fact, the two main casualties of events in Egypt ARE Gamal Mubarak and Radical Islam. Now the biggest danger to the Egyptian Revolution is the continuation of a Military Regime. Articles such as yours putting the short term economic interests of the West over the long term interests of the World in a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Middle East may only serve to encourage the Military to stay in place.

It is about time for everyone to abandon Mubarakism: apparent stability through repression and torture, while creating a bogeyman called Radical Islam.

Posted by SEl-Hamamsy | Report as abusive
 

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