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30/01/2011 | Crisis in Egypt: the Most Significant Litmus Test for Despots in the Arab World

Asian Tribune - Staff

The omens donít look good for Hosni Mubarak, the 82-year-old president of Egypt, who has been ruling the country for three decades without facing any serious challenge. His liberal instincts won him friends in the West, especially in the US, for being the best conduit to reach out to the Arab world, which normally look at the former with a suspicious eye.

 

The only meaningful relationship between the Arab world and Israel exists in Egypt and the West values the very fact much more than anything else. However, the evolving tone of Western leaders in proportion to the level of protest, especially those of the US, clearly shows that Mr Mubarak – or the Arab leaders on the same wavelength – cannot count on their loyalty for ever.

For instance, at the very beginning of the turmoil in Egypt, the United States maintained that the regime was stable; it went on to condemn the violence, while carefully avoiding taking sides. However, as things got worse, President Obama almost demanded reforms and a promise to keep them. France and Britain, meanwhile, issued a travel warning against visiting volatile region – without getting bogged down in uncertainty.

The removal of Ben Ali, the former Tunisian strongman, by the street protestors provided the suppressed masses of the neighbours of Tunisia with an emotional catalyst – to go for the unthinkable. Having been emboldened by the success in Tunisia, people in Jordan, Algeria, Libya, Syria and Egypt have collectively plucked up the courage to take on the unelected – or the elected, through questionable means – leaders, while demanding a level playing field. The grievances are universally identical: jobs for the educated youths; clampdown on corruption and nepotism; controlling the soaring food prices; personal freedom and freedom to protest.

As the protests gathered momentum, Mr Mubarak did a ‘Ben Ali’ – looking for a scapegoat – on Saturday. In Ben Ali’s case, it was the former Tunisian Interior Minister. Mr Mubarak, by contrast, went much further than that and found a herd of scapegoats – his entire cabinet. However, the track record of success of desperate measures during desperate times, is not very encouraging. They just prolong the psychological agony of the beleaguered leaders for a few more days, if not weeks.

As things stand, Mr Mubarak’s friend in need, is still a friend indeed: the United States hasn’t threatened to cut its aid to Egypt – the forth largest of its kind in the region; they still talk to each other; Uncle Sam has refrained from criticizing Mr Mubarak for the way he handles the situation while insisting on the need of peaceful protests. However, for how long he can count on Mr Obama, remains to be seen.

The fear for the West doesn’t stem from the potential for the rise in Islamic extremism alone. The fate of Suez Canal is also at the top of the list of priorities. At present, riots are taking place in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, in addition to what take place in other regions. Unfortunately, every single hypothetical worry in this particular region always has its corresponding material consequences: the stock markets are becoming jittery again; oil price may go through the roof while giving speculators an ideal shield for cover.

According to a report published by the BBC, Mr Mubarak’s sons have left Egypt for Britain. At present, hundreds of thousands of protestors are refusing to leave the streets, defying the all-night curfew. Although, the army warned them against breaking the curfew, it is highly unlikely they would unleash lethal force against the protestors, as they are fully aware of the consequences. The reporters on the ground speak about the cordial atmosphere that exists around the troops and protestors – an early sign of switching loyalty.

Mr Mubarak needs more than a miracle to hold on to power. He may have never thought about leaving behind a legacy of this kind. The events, once again, show the power of social networking sites such as Twitter, Youtube and Facebook, which galvanize the masses at lighting speed – and at a moment’s notice.

If the protestors get their way by ousting Mr Mubarak, the domino effect will certainly set in. If so, it will send a clear signal to the rest of the autocratic rulers to brace themselves for the next turn. The message will be clear too: introduce meaningful reforms or rule at your own peril.

If these regimes crumble, then the spot light will clearly be on Saudi Arabia, which habitually provides a refuge for fleeing Islamic rulers. Saudis have never accounted for this gesture, being the guardians of the most revered Islamic places of worship in the world.

People in the Arab world are fully aware that the autocratic regimes exit beyond the boundaries of the usual suspects. Having accepted Ben Ali as a guest – not necessarily, a guest of honour – everyone is watching how Saudis are going to deal with Mr Mubarak, if the worse come to the worst, for the former fighter pilot of the Egyptian Air Force.

Being no stranger to flying, Hosni Mubarak knows very well that he can’t get his bearings wrong with his next flight, as so many factors are not on his side at this critical time.

Asian Tribune (Tailandia)

 


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