Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain,...: A generation later, echos of '89

Courtesy of Al Jazeera: Project for a New Arab Century
When Mohammed Bouazizi attempted suicide by fire in the center of the Western Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid as a lonely protest against unemployment and corruption, he could not have known that he would ignite the whole Arab world.  Within a month the 23 years of corrupt and authoritarian Tunisian government of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali had fallen.  The government of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt fell only 18 days after the protests started.

Bouazizi died on January 5th, but his suicidal protest spread, with self immolation protests in Algeria, Iraq, Morrocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia , and Mauritania.  While strikes spread across post-Mubarak Egypt, protesters are negotiating with the military over the disappeared and the shape of Egypt's future after the military (hopefully) releases power into the hands of some popular body.  Tunisia and Egypt continue to struggle with political and economic instability.

This year will go down in history as a pivotal moment as important as 1989-1990 was a generation ago.   While the economic hard times have contrasted with the the wealth of corrupt and brutal authoritarian regimes, the youth of the Arab world have asserted a generational challenge to an entire regional paradigm of power.  This moment is as momentous as the fall of the Berlin wall, the Tian'anmen Square protest and following massacre, the Velvet revolutions in Prague and Ulaan Batar.

Meanwhile another wave of protests have exploded. In Bahrain foreign police under the monarchy's orders have repeatedly open fire on protesters with live rounds, killing many to dislodge them from strategic positions.  Gulf leaders have been meeting in Bahrain, leading many to speculate Saudi influence, and maybe even Saudi riot police are pushing this repression.  In Libya, dozens have been killed in violent uprisings that may have seen Gadaffi's repressive police lose control of parts of the country.  The initial crackdown was called a Tian'anmen response, though its clear the scale of the massacre in Benghazi, Tripoli and elsewhere have gone far beyond the violence 20 years ago, one night in Beijing.  Yemen is also a seen of ongoing battles between police and protesters.  Just as the Yemeni and Bahrain governments initially offered some concessions hoping to head off protests, so too is this wave affecting policy in Jordan.