The Arab 1848: A Long Time Coming


James Miller takes a moment to reflect on the past six weeks:

Before 14 January, most Americans didn't know Tunis from hummus. But suddenly the Tunisian regime fell, and President Zine Abedine Ben Ali quickly ended 27 years of rule by fleeing to Saudi Arabia. Two weeks later, US President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union address. He did not mention the word "Egypt". Three days later, every American was glued to a TV set to witness the final hours of President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year reign.

It happens that fast, and the whole world changes. Groups of dedicated and peaceful protesters join together, use technology to spread their voices, and bring down dictatorships. Well, Mubarak's demise is almost two weeks old. We are impatient for the next regime to fall. It could Libya, or Bahrain, or Iran, or maybe Yemen. It should happen any day now, right?

A step back. Many of the assertions above are completely, or partially, inaccurate.

The spark for what appeared to be an overnight revolution in Tunisia came almost a month earlier when Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, lit himself on fire after having his merchandise confiscated by a municipal officer. But before this, there were years of economic and social oppression to drive Bouazizi to his self-immolation and to push others to the streets.

In Egypt, websites had been following the political degradation for at least a year.  There were serious signs of trouble, long before the main stream media followed the story, with rigged elections, persecution of political dissent, beatings and killing by police, and bombings slowly eating away at Mubarak's credibility.

But the more critical misconception about these first two revolutions may be that the protesters in Tunisia and Egypt somehow toppled their dictators. While the protesters in both locations may have been the catalysts for change, they were not its agents. In both nations, members of the government and leaders of the military stepped in on behalf of the people on the ground. Dissent from within their establishments forced both Ben Ali and Mubarak into a corner. They would have to make a choice: face a bloody civil war and coups d'état, or step down.

Libya is not Egypt or Tunisia. Muammar Qaddafi has no centralized government, has no institutions, and has few rivals inside his own government or military. This is why were are seeing a very different pattern in Libya. The protesters are physically taking control of the country, not just a single square, and they are sometimes doing so by force. Each man employed by the Libyan state is being forced to pick sides. Many are joining the protests, but there is no other way for this to play out than violent revolution. There is no government, to speak of, to hold a gun to the back of the dictator's head.

Iran is also not Tunisia or Egypt, but for different reasons. The identity of the post-1979 pro-regime Iranian is closely tied to the idea that the current theocratic government is the culmination of the Islamic Revolution. Following orders, cracking down on dissenters, and maintaining loyalty to the Supreme Leader is almost an obligation. This is in sharp contrast to Egyptian and Tunisian societies, far more permissive despite their repression of political rivals or freedom of expression.

Cortni Kerr and Toby C. Jones take stock of the situation in Bahrain:

An uncertain calm has settled over the small island kingdom of Bahrain. The wave of peaceful pro-democracy protests from February 14-17 culminated in bloodshed, including the brutal murder of seven activists, some of whom were asleep in tents, by the armed forces. On orders from above, the army withdrew from the roundabout on the outskirts of the capital of Manama where the protests have been centered, and since shortly after the seven deaths it has observed calls for restraint. Thousands of jubilant protesters seized the moment to reoccupy the roundabout, the now infamous Pearl Circle. In commemoration of the dead, the demonstrators have renamed it Martyrs’ Circle. 

The mood in the circle is buoyant, even carnivalesque. It is also dead serious, for the thousands of encamped demonstrators demand nothing short of fundamental change to the kingdom’s autocratic political order.

Jane Novak details Day 12 and Day 13 of the unrest in Yemen. The latest from Algeria:

A draft law approved by the cabinet would repeal the emergency law as soon as it is published in the government's official journal, the official Algerie Presse Service reported on Wednesday. Ending the emergency powers was one of the demands voiced by opposition groups which have been staging weekly protests in the Algerian capital that sought to emulate uprisings in Egypt and neighbouring Tunisia.

"The lifting of the state of emergency is still positive but it's not enough," Mustafa Bouchachi, chairman of the Algerian Human Rights League and one of the organisers of the protests, said on Tuesday. "We need a real opening up for political, media and social activities so that the people can experience democracy for themselves"

Anthony De Rosa provides a staggering list of sites with updates from 10 different countries.

(Image via Twitter user Rutevera)