The view of the unrest in the Arab world that’s presented in some of the media is remarkably far from reality. In a recent NPR program, the significance of Hosni Mubarak’s trial was discussed by several commentators:
After Egyptians toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February, many thought that their revolution, driven by peaceful, mass demonstrations, would be duplicated elsewhere in the Middle East with the same powerful results.
All too soon, they saw on their TV screens that would not be the case, as uprisings in Libya and Syria brought bloodshed and slaughter. That led to uncertainty and fear in Egypt, because many agree with activist Hossam al-Hamalawy, who says that Egypt’s revolution cannot fully succeed on its own.
“You cannot build a democracy in a country where you are surrounded by a sea or an ocean of dictatorships,” he said.
In the meantime, many who brought about Egypt’s revolution began to lose hope. They watched as the Supreme Military Council, which now holds power, cracked down on protesters and slowed down change, says Hossam Bahgat, the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
“There were many days and weeks in which many of us felt our transition is being blocked by the interim forces,” he said.
But then Mubarak was put on trial, wheeled into the courtroom on a hospital bed, and put in a cage used for common criminals. It shocked Egypt and the wider Arab world, says Bahgat.
“Seeing Mubarak on trial will strengthen the popular demand for a democracy and dignity and full accountability,” he said. And, he added, it could also “further terrify these autocrats and once again deliver the message that their days in power are numbered” …
According to Fawaz Gerges, director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, what is taking place across the Arab world is a genuine revolution.
“There is a new order in place. And I think there’s a rupture,” Gerges said. “The rupture that has to do with the mood and psychology of the Arab people. Citizens who are empowered, emboldened. They have rights as opposed to being subjects, ruled by their powerful leaders like Mubarak.”
The message in this is that there are two alternatives: the old order, represented by Mubarak, Qaddafi and Assad, and the new one, characterized by “democracy and dignity and full accountability” and “citizens who are empowered, emboldened. They have rights as opposed to being subjects.”
Of course there is another alternative: that is that these conservative dictatorships will be replaced by revolutionary Islamist regimes. This is precisely what happened in Iran in 1979.
Islamism is waxing strong in the Middle East today. Lebanon, a weak democracy, has been all but taken over by the Islamist Hizballah. In Turkey, formerly a secular democracy, the ruling Islamist AKP has systematically crushed its secular opposition in the military and the legal system, has deliberately wrecked its relationship with Israel, and is making noises about intervening in Syria (such intervention would be on behalf of Sunni Islamists, not democrats). In the Palestinian arena, only US dollars and IDF soldiers prevent the radical Islamist Hamas, which already controls Gaza, from getting control of all the territories.
Destabilizing forces are at work in Egypt, the largest Arabic-speaking nation in the Middle East:
Egyptian troops escorted by tanks entered the Sinai Peninsula region on Friday in an attempt to put an end to the anarchy that has erupted there since the fall of the Mubarak regime.
The aim of the operation was to halt Bedouin control of the northern Sinai area, which allows for the transfer of weapons to the Gaza Strip through underground tunnels…
In July, five people were killed when dozens of gunmen tried to storm a police station in al-Arish. The gunmen and hundreds more, reported to be Islamists, were wearing black and carrying black flags reading “There is no God but God.” Egypt’s military has detained 15 people suspected of involvement in clashes between gunmen and police in northern Sinai, including 10 Palestinians.
Following the attack flyers were distributed in the peninsula, threatening more attacks on police. The flyers were signed “Al-Qaida in Sinai.”
What’s coming in Egypt? Barry Rubin tells us that it’s the Muslim Brotherhood:
The West is still in denial about the Brotherhood’s role in Egypt. Many Egyptians are just becoming resigned to living in a country that’s increasingly Islamist, more Islamic-oriented, and perhaps even run by the Brotherhood. I don’t think the Brotherhood is about to take power in Egypt. I think it is about to become the single most powerful organization in Egypt and that it will play a central role in writing a new constitution and taking over institutions. More likely, within five years the Brotherhood will either be running Egypt or engaged in a very bloody battle to seize control over the state.
Democracy is not even one of the contenders, especially when you consider the fact that Egypt will soon be facing significant problems feeding its people.
In Syria, it appears that Assad and his regime understand that they are in a fight for their lives (literally). They are pulling out all of the stops, sending tanks against civilians, bombarding cities from naval vessels, etc. When the dust clears either Assad will remain (unlikely) or he will be replaced by those forces strong enough to take power. It’s not clear yet who this will be, but I think we can be sure it won’t be the Facebooking students.