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Revolution in the Middle-East

February 22, 2011

For the 350 million Arabic-speaking people in North Africa, Egypt’s revolution was a seismic game changer equivalent to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This is the beginning of the end of the neo-colonial era in the Middle-East; an era in which authoritarian leaders have complied with western interests through subservient foreign policies, the supply of undervalued oil, and dubious military alliances.

It has been a revolution accomplished by non-violent protests and without a “leader”. Who could ask for more? Well, how about its extension to other states such as Bahrain, Algeria, Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia?

What must be understood however is that the “success of the Egyptian revolution” was fundamentally the result of a decision by the Egyptian army to “manage a transition” rather than use open violence (to compare: look at Libya’s violent response to internal protests).

In the case of Egypt, the fundamental question remains as to the future direction of political reform. Will the older Mubarak-era Generals co-opt change under martial law? Or will they attempt to jump outside their 60 year role of supporting figurehead dictators? Simply put, given the position of the military as the real centre of power in Egypt, what is its commitment to transition and reform?

Keep your eye on the Algerian and Yemeni military dictatorships for future popular revolts in the Arab region. Meanwhile, pay attention to the Tunisian army’s strategy to circumvent real democratization as a test model for Egypt.

The recent Libyan response to revolution is doomed to fail. Here, “President” Gadhafi has been ruling for 41 years and is using a “shoot to kill” approach against peaceful demonstrators. Again, like in Egypt, the real question will be the degree to which the lower ranks of the army begin to fracture and various military units start to join openly with the demonstrators. (This is already beginning to happen.)

In China, the strategy being used is one of overwhelming police presence to stifle even the gathering of 2-3 people. Strategy: don’t repress a public demonstration with violence. Rather, don’t permit demonstrations in the first place.

In Sudan and Yemen, watch for a strategy in which the ruling elites will try to maintain power by promising reforms and the pronouncements that their current autocratic Presidents will not be “candidates” in future elections. Tactics like this are reminiscent of the Russian “Putin move”, wherein power appears to be transferred to a new leader (Medeyev) but in reality stays with the former ruler (Putin).

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