Posted on | January 28, 2011 | No Comments
The Arab world’s various political regimes lived until now in apparently splendid autonomy, each pretending to go about its own business while not overly caring about its neighbours. In truth, each government is trying to step over neighbouring countries, promoting its own interests. Syria has fun with Lebanon, Libya with Tunisia, Egypt with the Palestinian territories, Iran with pretty much everyone else, just like Saudi Arabia, for that matter.
Western democracies, in an attempt to preserve their economic self-interest, have supported this situation and the resulting stability and not bothered too much about these populations democratic aspirations. However, the last few days events highlight a new world order: these aspirations were developing in the shadows, fed by a more efficient communications network.
These regimes stood like a house of cards. The fall of Tunisian dictator Ben Ali shook the whole structure. Should other cards fall, the contagion could become unstoppable. For examples, protesters have been active for three weeks in Jordan, where popular resentment is fuelled by a rise in food prices. The political crisis in Lebanon which led to the ousting of Saad Hariri and the seizure of power by the Hezbollah has created domestic troubles. A series of lesser protests also spread through Algeria, the Sudan, Yemen and a few other states.
Obviously, general unrest does not always bring about political change. The so-called green revolution which followed the 2009 Iranian elections did not in the end result in any significant change in the theocracy. The most famous example, the Tien An Men square uprising in China, not only had no result whatsoever – 19 years later, China was rewarded with the Beijing Olympic Games.
Then there is the fact that communication networks can be silenced, as Mubarak did in Egypt with the complacent agreement of mobile phone services provider Vodafone, and of the various local ISPs. However, the protests still rage on and their intensity has increased, which indicates that this movement will not be stopped so easily.
It is much too soon to claim that these protests will result in a greater democratic openness in the Arab world. The hypothesis of the rise of religious extremists is just as credible and a lot scarier. However, the creation and maintenance of independent communication networks can now be seen as another mean to promote democracy and human rights in this area, less risky and much less expensive than the useless wars being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example.