The Great Debate UK
from The Great Debate:
By Stefan Wolff
The opinions expressed are his own.
When Mohamed Bouazizi, a jobless graduate in the provincial city of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, about 200km southwest of the capital Tunis, set himself on fire on December 18, 2010 after police had confiscated a cart from which he was selling fruit and vegetables, few would have predicted that this event would spark the phenomenon we now refer to as the Arab Spring. Protests quickly escalated in Tunisia and within four weeks Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had to flee to Saudi Arabia having failed to stop the protests either by repression of promises of reform.
On 17 January, one day after Ben Ali’s departure, another young man set himself afire near the Egyptian parliament. Within a week, coordinated mass protests began in Tahrir Square, and forced the resignation of long-serving Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who handed power to the military on 11 February.
Since then, the transitions in Tunisia and Egypt have made at best incremental progress in some areas. In Tunisia, the first elections anywhere as a result of the Arab Spring went ahead in October and the newly elected parliament had its inaugural session on November 22nd. The election winners, the moderate Islamist party Ennahda (Renaissance) will have a coalition arrangement with a liberal and a centre-left party. While Tunisia avoided the appalling violence that characterised the uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the new government and parliament still face an up-hill battle in the transition to a more democratic political system, including drafting a new constitution.
In Egypt, the military was instrumental in pushing Mubarak out of office, but the slow progress towards democratic reforms, several deadly sectarian clashes between Islamists and Christian copts, tensions and violence on the border with Israel, and a heavy-handed police crack-down on continuing protests in Tahrir Square do not bode well for the country’s immediate future—even if parliamentary elections go ahead on 28 November. While the army seems keen not to want to actually govern the country, they seem equally determined not to give up their privileged position that gives them political influence and control over significant economic assets.
Where is the Arab Spring leading the Middle East? What will be the longer-term outcome of the popular protests that have shaken the region since the beginning of this year? Of course, it’s still too early to say with any certainty, even in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt that succeeded in toppling their authoritarian regimes. Some trends have emerged, however, and they’re on the agenda at a conference in Venice I’m attending entitled “Medio Oriente verso dove?” (Where is the Middle East heading?). The host is the Oasis Foundation, a group chaired by Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Roman Catholic patriarch of this historic city, and guests include Christian and Muslim religious leaders and academics from the Middle East and Europe.
from The Great Debate:
Philip N. Howard, an associate professor at the University of Washington, is the author of "The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam". The opinions expressed are his own.
The Day of Rage in Saudi Arabia was a tepid affair, and Libyan rebels have suffered strategic losses. Only two months ago, popular uprisings in Tunisia inspired Egyptians and others to take to the streets to demand political reform. Will the tough responses from Gadaffi and the Saudi government now discourage Arab conversations about democratic possibilities? It may seem like the dictators are ahead, but it’s only a temporary lead.
Part of the problem trying to figure out what Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood or Tunisia's Ennahda party would do if they got into any future power structure in their countries is knowing what kind of Islamists they are. The label "Islamist" pops up frequently these days, in comments and warnings and (yes) news reports, but the term is so broad that it even covers groups that oppose each other. Just as the Muslim world is not a bloc, the Islamist world is not a bloc.
If President Hosni Mubarak bows to the clamor of the street and goes, Egyptians and other Arabs seeking to turn a page on autocratic government may look at Turkey for some clues on marrying Islam and democracy.
-”Kathleen Brooks is research director at forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.”-
The peoples of the Middle East are rising up and letting their political views be known. In Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen protestors have taken to the streets to demand political change, and in the case of Tunisia they have succeeded. These tensions between the people and their governments have caught the global media’s attention. It has also set off something of a domino effect with other autocratic regimes in the region worrying that the same could happen to them.
(Photo: Tunisian protester with political demands on a banner that reads
"No to a government born of corruption" “Ben Ali is in Saudi Arabia and the government is the same (hasn’t changed)” in Arabic and "RCD, clear out!" in French. The RCD is the party of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. In Tunis January 18, 2011/Zohra Bensemra)
The absence of Islamist slogans from Tunisia's pro-democracy revolt punches a hole in the argument of many Arab autocrats that they are the bulwark stopping religious radicals sweeping to power.
Ousted strongman Zine el Abidine Ben Ali spent much of his 23-year rule crushing Islamist opposition groups who opposed his government's brand of strict secularism: after Sept. 11 2001, he was an enthusiastic backer of Washington's "war on terror".