Thirty years ago, the late Tom Snyder observed on The Tomorrow Show that television showed the “have-nots” how the “haves” lived, which would some day bring about social change. He could not have foreseen the evolution of social media that has produced organized opposition to Arab autocrats.
The revolutions taking place in Arab countries, from Tunisia to Syria, the people, in particular the numerous youth, want more control of their lives, freedom to make choices. The following quote explains why Arabs have revolted against the status quo in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya etc. Note: Yasser Arafat the symbol of resistance (terrorism) for a generation, was an Egyptian. There are no Palestinians, only Arabs.
The Palestinians will also be affected by the Arab awakening. Yasser Arafat was never able to create more than the Palestinian equivalent of a Bantustan in Gaza and the West Bank in the wake of the Oslo Accords because of relentless Israeli pressure, increased settlements and international isolation. But another reason was that the quasi-state he created was a replica of those in the Arab world. It had a corrupt self-serving elite, a bloated patronage machine, and brutal security services that enforced allegiance to the government. At one moment it had 70,000 men under arms but proved incapable of defending its territory from Israeli incursions.
“Currently, the Middle East has the second highest percentage of young people in the world. About 60 percent of the region’s population is under 30—a demographic easily seen in Sidi Bouzid, where young men in hoodies and young women in fashionable calf-high boots far outnumber the occasional picturesque tableaus of old men wearing the region’s traditional hooded burnooses, driving donkey carts.
Demographers have been forecasting the coming youth wave since the 1990s. Political scientists, economists, and others urged leaders in the Middle East to develop their economies, to transform the surge of young workers into an economic boon rather than a social, economic, and political catastrophe. In 2007, Population Action International warned that 80 percent of the world’s conflicts in the last 30 years of the 20th century had been waged in countries where at least 60 percent of the population was under 30.
Leaders in the region, lulled into complicity by the ease with which they had subdued their populations to date, didn’t listen. In recent years, while Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries grew in prosperity, the rate of people living in poverty actually increased.
As of this month, the U.N. International Labor Organization says, the result is that the Middle East now has the highest regional unemployment rates in the world—about 10 percent. For young people in the two regions, the rate is four times higher, the I.L.O. Says.
Unemployment means the average age of marriage is increasing, because each wedding costs many times the average family’s per-capita income. At ages when their parents were settling into jobs and marrying, millions of the Arab world’s young people, though educated, are living at home, wheedling allowances from their mothers, ever more humiliated and angry at the failure of their launch into adulthood. Some of the highest corruption rates in the world mean that only those with connections—wasta, to Arabs—and money to pay bribes have any hope of getting many kinds of desirable employment.”
Arab autocrats established a narrow base of support among cronies and family instead of bringing the opportunity to share in national wealth within the general population.
The catalyst for myriad uprisings throughout the Middle East was provided by a single individual who decided he had endured enough gratuitous indignity.
In Tunisia, act of one fruit vendor unleashes wave of revolution through Arab world
By Marc Fisher, Saturday, March 26,8:04 PM
SIDI BOUZID, TUNISIA — On the evening before Mohammed Bouazizi lit a fire that would burn across the Arab world, the young fruit vendor told his mother that the oranges, dates and apples he had to sell were the best he’d ever seen. “With this fruit,” he said, “I can buy some gifts for you. Tomorrow will be a good day.”
For years, Bouazizi had told his mother stories of corruption at the fruit market, where vendors gathered under a cluster of ficus trees on the main street of this scruffy town, not far from Tunisia’s Mediterranean beaches. Arrogant police officers treated the market as their personal picnic grounds, taking bagfuls of fruit without so much as a nod toward payment. The cops took visible pleasure in subjecting the vendors to one indignity after another — fining them, confiscating their scales, even ordering them to carry their stolen fruit to the cops’ cars.
Before dawn on Friday, Dec. 17, as Bouazizi pulled his cart along the narrow, rutted stone road toward the market, two police officers blocked his path and tried to take his fruit. Bouazizi’s uncle rushed to help his 26-year-old nephew, persuading the officers to let the rugged-looking young man complete his one-mile trek.
The uncle visited the chief of police and asked him for help. The chief called in a policewoman who had stopped Bouazizi, Fedya Hamdi, and told her to let the boy work.
Hamdi, outraged by the appeal to her boss, returned to the market. She took a basket of Bouazizi’s apples and put it in her car. Then she started loading a second basket. This time, according to Alladin Badri, who worked the next cart over, Bouazizi tried to block the officer.
“She pushed Mohammed and hit him with her baton,” Badri said.
Hamdi reached for Bouazizi’s scale, and again he tried to stop her.
Hamdi and two other officers pushed Bouazizi to the ground and grabbed the scale. Then she slapped Bouazizi in the face in front of about 50 witnesses.
Bouazizi wept with shame.
“Why are you doing this to me?” he cried, according to vendors and customers who were there. “I’m a simple person, and I just want to work.”
Revolutions are explosions of frustration and rage that build over time, sometimes over decades. Although their political roots are deep, it is often a single spark that ignites them — an assassination, perhaps, or one selfless act of defiance.
In Tunisia, an unusually cosmopolitan Arab country with a high rate of college attendance, residents watched for 23 years as Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s dictatorship became a grating daily insult. From Tunis — the whitewashed, low-rise capital with a tropical, colonial feel — to the endless stretches of olive and date trees in the sparsely populated countryside, the complaints were uniform: It had gotten so you couldn’t get a job without some connection to Ben Ali’s family or party. The secret police kept close tabs on ordinary Tunisians. And the uniformed police took to demanding graft with brazen abandon.
Still, the popular rebellion that started here and spread like a virus to Egypt, Libya and the Persian Gulf states, and now to Yemen and Syria , was anything but preordained. The contagion, carried by ordinary people rather than politicians or armies, hits each country in a different and uncontrollable way, but with common characteristics — Friday demonstrations, Facebook connections, and alliances across religious, class and tribal lines. This wave of change happened because aging dictators grew cocky and distant from the people they once courted, because the new social media that the secret police didn’t quite understand reached a critical mass of people, and because, in a rural town where respect is more valued than money, Mohammed Bouazizi was humiliated in front of his friends.
After the slap, Bouazizi went to city hall and demanded to see an official. No, a clerk replied. Go home. Forget about it.
Bouazizi returned to the market and told his fellow vendors he would let the world know how unfairly they were being treated, how corrupt the system was.
He would set himself ablaze.
“We thought he was just talking,” said Hassan Tili, another vendor.
A short while later, the vendors heard shouts from a couple of blocks away. Without another word to anyone, Bouazizi had positioned himself in front of the municipal building, poured paint thinner over his body and lit himself aflame.
The fire burned and burned. People ran inside and grabbed a fire extinguisher, but it was empty. They called for police, but no one came. Only an hour and a half after Bouazizi lit the match did an ambulance arrive.
Manoubya Bouazizi said her son’s decision “was spontaneous, from the humiliation.” Her clear blue eyes welled as her husband placed at her feet a small clay pot filled with a few white-hot pieces of charcoal, their only defense against a cold, raw, rain-swept day. The Bouazizi family has no money, no car, no electricity, but it was not poverty that made her son sacrifice himself, she said. It was his quest for dignity.
Ben Ali visited Mohammed Bouazizi in the hospital, along with a camera crew. The president made a show of handing Manoubya a check for 10,000 dinars (about $14,000). But the mother said Ben Ali’s staffers took the check back after the cameramen were escorted from the room. “I never got any of it,” she said.
In early January, the policewoman was arrested, but it was too late. The story had spread, and three months later, a revolution that sprouted in a small village in Tunisia and flowered in Egypt has morphed into a contagion that threatens regimes in Bahrain and Yemen, has enveloped Libya in civil war, and is unsettling even the region’s more placid monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Three weeks after he set himself on fire, Bouazizi died in the burn unit.
Social networking is not a substitute for competence. Good intentions are not a substitute for political, military, or economic experience.
Why I fear the West can’t influence the powder keg that is the Arab world
By MAX HASTINGS
Last updated at 9:39 AM on 30th March 2011
Britain, France and America now have a commitment in Libya for which no one can foretell the ending. The wider Arab world is in a ferment which causes every monarch and tyrant in the region to tremble.
Western leaders ritually applaud the stirrings of revolt in Syria and Yemen. But they are struggling to define new policies in the face of events whose significance remains shrouded in uncertainty.
Two years ago at an Islamic conference, I heard a Jordanian minister deliver an impressively forceful warning to his Western listeners.
He said: ‘We are sitting on a powder keg. In every Muslim society, a huge new young generation is rising, which is prey to deep frustrations: social, economic, political — and sexual. What will happen when these explode, none of us can guess.’
Today, the upheaval he anticipated has begun, powerfully influenced by the twin forces of the internet and the independent Qatar-based 24/7 broadcaster Al Jazeera, which has shown people rising up against their oppressive regimes in Arab North Africa.
It seems likely to bring lasting change to the Muslim world, though the process will be protracted, and resistance from some rulers stubborn.
Whether the West can usefully influence it is a much harder question.
Most Muslim societies are failures, not merely politically, but also economically and industrially. The oppression of women is just one manifestation of a culture that stifles modernity.
The only Middle Eastern export the world wants is its oil. Those Muslim countries that lack black gold invent and produce almost nothing else of value, and most are wretchedly poor.
Their inhabitants are bitterly conscious of the West’s wealth and of its indifference towards them, which sometimes spills over into contempt.
Indeed, many Arabs exist in a miasma of victimhood. They think themselves exploited by the West, and cherish extraordinary fantasies: that America and its allies are engaged in a struggle to destroy Islam; that the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. were a CIA plot to discredit Muslims.
Above all, of course, Israel is the focus of rage — compounded by the West’s support for that country.
Anti-semitism is as commonplace and respectable in Egypt and Iran as it was in Nazi Germany — witness the appalling tirades that appear in the Egyptian press and on its television channels. Iran’s president is openly committed to Israel’s destruction.
Even those of us who deplore Israeli expansionism and oppression of the Palestinians despair at Muslim willingness to make the Jewish state the focus of its passions.
Every sensible person in the West knows that Israel has absolutely no responsibility for the core problems of the Islamic world.
Many Arabs recognise, consciously or unconsciously, that their countries command Western attention only because of their oil — and power therefore to do us harm.
The problem is that all these factors come together to impact on our lives almost every day.
Every Western society now spends billions of pounds on defence in order to protect its citizens against the threat of terrorism, while a huge and cumbersome security machinery has been established as a necessity to protect air travellers.
Much of the Muslim world is characterised by an intemperate rage which threatens to cause Pakistan, with its population of 180 million, to implode.
Frustration and fear are constants in other Muslim countries. Three years ago, my wife and I visited Syria as tourists.
Parts of the country are stunningly beautiful, and the people we met were delightful. But our guide said in an unguarded moment: ‘All of us in this country are always afraid.’
If the odious Assad tyranny in Syria is overthrown as a result of the current street protests, the world will rightly applaud.
But it is hard to be optimistic that what follows will be either free or democratic. It seems so difficult to achieve stability or even basic human rights in most Muslim societies.
Almost 40 years ago, I made a series of films for BBC TV in Yemen, then one of the most primitive societies on earth — and today, by all accounts, not much more advanced.
We interviewed a government minister, to whom I suggested that the task of running his country must sometimes seem almost hopeless.
He responded by lapsing into an emotional and moving frankness: ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘You are right. There are days when I sit in this office and wonder whether I or anyone else can make this country work.’
Washington is today more alarmed by events in Yemen than by those in Libya. That wild, mountainous, anarchic tribal society has become the principal haven of Al Qaeda, and threatens to degenerate into another Somalia (which has been riven by civil war for years and is rated as the most corrupt nation on Earth).
It borders Saudi Arabia, and thus threatens the stability of the most vital oil state of all.
Failure is what often makes countries dangerous, because their peoples are angry and have nothing to lose. This is particularly true of many Muslim societies.
Conversely, that is the reason I am cautiously hopeful about China, because its economic success is likely to make it behave rationally, and to recognise its own interest in co-existing with the rest of us.
Over the past two decades, we have witnessed the flowering of an Asian genius, extending to India, which threatens our own competitive position in the world but which we must admire and applaud.
In the Middle East, we should all hope for the evolution of a Muslim genius. Only if the Arab nations become materially and culturally successful can they discover the self-respect which is indispensable both to their happiness and to global stability.
In the short term, it is impossible to be optimistic about this. Sustained turmoil seems almost inevitable, and Western caution vital in the face of it. So strong is Muslim paranoia about our ill intentions towards Islam that we must do nothing that feeds it.
David Cameron’s intentions in leading a charge against Colonel Gaddafi are honourable and humane. But it will be extraordinarily difficult to help Libya towards a better future amid the chaos of emotions and loyalties prevailing throughout the region.
We should notice that Al Qaeda welcomes the Western military intervention, because its leaders believe this will soon prove a stimulus to anti-Western passions.
It is a serious impediment to Western policy, that we know almost nothing about the insurgents we are trying to assist to victory. We have no notion what sort of regime might follow that of Gaddafi.
To remain mere spectators while a substantial part of the Middle East struggles over its destiny, and while innocent people suffer, flies in the face of many Western leaders’ strongest instincts.
But our power to influence events is small. The consequences of Muslim rage could be grave.
We know what we want to happen: that freedom, democracy and prosperity should flourish throughout the Arab world. But there is dismayingly little that we can do to advance these fine things, as I fear we shall discover in the boundless Libyan sands.
Syrian President blames unrest on ‘conspiracy’
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed “conspirators” on Wednesday for an extraordinary wave of dissent against his authoritarian rule, but he failed to lift the country’s despised emergency law or offer any concessions in his first speech since the protests began nearly two weeks ago.
Within hours of Assad’s speech, residents of the port city of Latakia said troops opened fire during a protest by about 100 people — although it was not immediately clear whether they were firing in the air or at the protesters. The residents asked that their names not be published for fear of reprisals.
Assad said Wednesday that Syria is facing “a major conspiracy” that aims to weaken this country of 23 million. The Assad family has ruled Syria for nearly 40 years, using the feared security services to monitor and control even the smallest rumblings of opposition. Draconian laws have all but eradicated civil liberties and political freedoms.
“We don’t seek battles,” Assad, 45, said in an unusually short, televised speech before legislators who cheered for him and shouted support from their seats. “But if a battle is imposed on us today, we welcome it.”
He made only a passing reference to the protesters’ calls for change, saying “we are for reform” and promising that certain measures were being studied.
Social networking sites immediately exploded with activists calling on Syrians to take to the streets.
Assad’s speech was surprising not so much for what he said but for what he left out. His adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban, said last week that Syria had formed a committee to study a series of reforms, including lifting the state of emergency laws, which have been in place since 1963 and give the regime a free hand to arrest people without charge.
Assad had been widely expected to formally announce the changes. But the fact that he failed to mention any of them was a major disappointment for thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets since March 18. Human rights groups say more than 60 people have been killed as security forces cracked down on the demonstrations.
Assad, who inherited power 11 years ago from his father, appears to be following the playbook of other autocratic leaders in the region who scrambled to put down popular uprisings by offering minor concessions coupled with brutal crackdowns.
The formula failed in Tunisia and Egypt, where popular demands increased almost daily — until people accepted nothing less than the ouster of the regime.
Assad fired his 32-member Cabinet on Tuesday in a move designed to pacify the anti-government protesters, but the overture was largely symbolic. Assad holds the lion’s share of power in the authoritarian regime, and there are no real opposition figures or alternatives to the current leadership.
After waiting for days for the president’s address, many Syrians said it would be better if he had not spoken.
“The fact that he is blaming everything on conspirators means that he does not even acknowledge the root of the problem,” said Razan Zaitouneh, a Syrian lawyer and pro-reform activist. “I don’t have an explanation for this speech, I am in a state of shock … There are already calls for a day of anger on Friday. This cannot sit well with the Syrian people.”
A Syrian dissident who lives in Lebanon said Assad’s speech was disrespectful to the protest movement.
“It was a speech of defiance,” said Khalil Hassan of the Beirut-based Committee of Torture Victims in the Prisons of the Syrian Regime. “He showed no respect to opposition figures or the martyrs who have fallen in Syria in the past years.”
“Such a speech would have worked in the 1970s but now things are different,” Hassan said.
Syria, a predominantly Sunni country ruled by minority Alawites, has a history of brutally crushing dissent — including a notorious massacre in which Assad’s late father, President Hafez Assad, crushed a Muslim fundamentalist uprising in the city of Hama in 1982, killing thousands.
The unrest in Syria, a strategically important country, could have implications well beyond its borders given its role as Iran’s top Arab ally and as a front line state against Israel.
When the unrest roiling the Middle East hit Syria, it was a dramatic turn for Assad, a British-trained eye doctor who said in January that his country was immune to such unrest because he is in tune with his people’s needs.
Assad does maintain a level of popular support, in no small part because of his anti-Israel policies, which resonate with his countrymen. And unlike leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Jordan, Assad is not allied with the United States, so he has been spared the accusation that he caters to American demands.
So far, few in Syria have publicly called on Assad to step down. Most are calling for reforms, annulling emergency laws and other stringent security measures and an end to corruption.
Robert Fisk: Assad: The Arab Spring stops here
While Syria’s protesters demand freedom, President has stark message for his people
Thursday, 31 March 2011
He was not a humble President. He did not give way. There were hints, of course – an end to emergency legislation, “reforms” – but when he spoke yesterday, trying to calm a crisis that has seen more than 60 people killed in a fortnight and threatens his very office, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria did not give the impression of a man on the run.
Was it Libya that gave him the “oomph” to go on, the encouragement to stand up and say that “reform is not a seasonable issue” – an accurate translation of his belief that Syria does not have to conform to the Middle East revolution? Either way, the Baath party is going to fight on. Assad remains the President of Syria. No change.
Posted on Thursday, March 31, 2011
After starting wave of revolution, Tunisia tries to preserve its own
Tunisian blogger Lina Ben Mhenni, 27, at a cafe in Tunis, Tunisia. Her blog, “A Tunisian Girl,” was blocked in Tunisia under the authoriarian regime of ex-President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. | Shashank Bengali/MCT
By Shashank Bengali | McClatchy Newspapers
TUNIS, Tunisia — Lina Ben Mhenni’s blog isn’t banned in her home country anymore. Secret police no longer shadow her every move, and she doesn’t fear thugs breaking into her parents’ home again and making off with her laptop and camera, as they did last spring.
Still, Ben Mhenni isn’t sure she’s happy with how things are going, three months after a people’s rebellion overthrew this small North African nation’s 23-year dictatorship and sparked the historic wave of protests that are remaking the Arab world.
“I don’t think that the country is on the right track,” Ben Mhenni, 27, said, shaking her head as she watched a small demonstration on the steps of the municipal theater call for criminal trials for the country’s deposed president and his associates. “The government is trying to say these demonstrators have personal demands, but they have political demands. The government is not really working toward real democracy.”
In the new Tunisia, there’s no denying the first tentative steps toward democracy.
The transitional government has dissolved former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali’s monopolistic ruling party, broken his family’s mafia-like hold on the economy, forced the resignation of a prime minister who had ties to the old regime, disbanded the reviled secret police and lifted a stranglehold on free speech.
New elections are scheduled for July, while a high council of jurists and intellectuals drafts new electoral laws and determines whether to try ex-regime figures for corruption, torture and other abuses. For the first time in two decades, Tunisia’s countless cafes are abuzz with open debates about the country’s political future.
“Under Ben Ali we were a country of 10 million soccer coaches,” said a radio host, Noureddine Ben Ticha, referring to the old national obsession. “Now we are 10 million political analysts.”
But there’s also a struggle to maintain the momentum for change.
More than 50 political parties have registered for the July elections, including some headed by well known former members of the ruling party and others by total unknowns.
Sporadic sit-ins demanding swifter reforms and economic progress have snarled traffic outside government buildings, leading to several arrests last week in the first significant confrontation between demonstrators and security forces since the uprising.
Even the high council has come in for criticism for meeting behind closed doors and has nearly doubled in size after Tunisians complained that it excluded women, Islamists, young people and residents from outside the capital.
Democracy, as Ben Mhenni is learning, in some ways is messier than revolution.
As the daughter of a former political prisoner, her skepticism of the country’s political elite is deep and abiding. She still looks the part of the impatient young activist — perched at the edge of her chair, her eyes distracted, a jumbled necklace of silver coins cascading from her neck.
With its thinly veiled references to Ben Ali — whom she often called “the rock,” dull and immovable — her blog, “A Tunisian Girl,” was banned along with many other websites critical of the regime. Government goons harassed her even when she went to buy coffee, once loudly proclaiming to startled passers-by that she contracted AIDS on a trip to the U.S. (She was a Fulbright scholar at Tufts University in 2008.)
Channeling the zeal of its revolutionaries into a new political system is difficult for any country in transition. With its small, homogenous and well educated population, experts say that this former French colony may have the best chance of any Arab nation to build a representative democracy from the rubble of its toppled autocracy.
Failure, however, could also have ripple effects in the region.
“All these factors mean it probably will succeed and that it will be a positive model for other countries,” said a Western diplomat in Tunis whose government wouldn’t authorize him to be quoted by name.
“Conversely, if it doesn’t work here, then there’s a real risk that people who don’t want democracy to work . . . will point to the reasons why we shouldn’t go down the democratic path.”
Secret State Department cables released by WikiLeaks described Tunisia under Ben Ali as “sclerotic” and corrupt to the core. His clan of extended relatives — often referred to simply as “the Family” — dominated the media and, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable from 2008, comprised “seemingly half of the Tunisian business community.”
The transitional government in February seized the assets of 110 Ben Ali family members and associates, but some argue that the list needs to be expanded.
Other reforms are needed, many argue, if the old guard’s lock on Tunisian politics is to be broken forever.
Omar Mestiri, a human rights activist and member of the high council, applied to start an independent radio station but was told by government officials that a one-year license to broadcast nationwide would cost about $845,000 — a sum that’s “out of the question for anyone except members of the old elite,” he said.
He’s worried that many station managers, newspaper editors and media personalities who were in thrall to the regime remain in their posts.
“People who were for Ben Ali are now for the revolution,” Mestiri said. “They behave as if nothing happened.”
Away from the European-style chic of the capital, the economic grievances that launched the uprising continue to bite. In Zarzis, a sleepy southeastern port town, many complained that the new government had few concrete proposals to create jobs or improve living standards in the country’s interior.
Mouflah Ajaouda, who has a college degree in engineering, said the best job he could get was as a technician for a state-owned construction company, where he earns about $180 a month. That’s barely enough to cover his meals and bus fare, says Ajaouda, who’s nearly 30 and lives with his parents.
“It’s hard to even afford cigarettes or new clothes, and getting married is out of the question,” Ajaouda said. “It is difficult because you feel you are capable and competent but you don’t have the means.”
One afternoon recently, he and three friends were at the port on a mission: They were searching for a jobless friend who’d suddenly disappeared from home. They feared he’d come to Zarzis to buy passage on a tiny, overcrowded fishing boat bound for Europe — a clandestine migration that’s accelerated since January, after Tunisian security forces deployed to cities during the revolution.
Over the past two months, the United Nations says that more than 10,000 Tunisians have arrived by boat on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a gateway to Europe 70 miles across the Mediterranean. Italian authorities call the migration a humanitarian emergency.
Ahmed Ghoummidh, a curly-haired fisherman in Zarzis, said that his 19-year-old brother was fed up with being unemployed and borrowed several hundred dollars from relatives last month to make the crossing. He’s found his way to France, where he’s looking for work as a plumber.
“All men have the idea that Europe is better than here,” Ghoummidh said. “For my brother, the revolution made him happy, but it didn’t make him rich.”