Saturday, January 29, 2011

Arab Dictatorships Teeter

by Richard Crews
Over the past six weeks a wave of civil and political unrest has engulfed the Arab world in North Africa and the adjacent Arabian Peninsula.

It began in Tunisia (December 18, 2010),
spread to Algeria (Dec. 28),
then Jordan (Jan. 14),
Mauritania and Oman (Jan. 17),
Saudi Arabia (Jan. 21),
Egypt (Jan. 25),
and Yemen (Jan. 27).

The root causes are high unemployment, inflation of food prices, government corruption, lack of freedom of speech, and generally poor living conditions in the face of exorbitant wealth of the families of entrenched dictators.

Modern information technology has played an important part in these uprisings. Satellite TV and the Internet have spread images of political freedom and comfortable life styles into downtrodden homes around the world. Then last fall WikiLeaks revealed rampant corruption in the government of Tunisia. And the social-connection systems of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have allowed people on the streets to communicate with one another to encourage and coordinate their demonstrations.

These are not anti-religious movements. It is fascinating to see throngs of thousands on the streets of Cairo pause in their riotous police defiance and kneel together facing Mecca for five o'clock evening prayers. And they are not anarchic. In Tunisia in early January when a large group of lawyers tried to meet to establish a new government and were beaten and arrested by the police, 95% of Tunisia's 8,000 lawyers went on strike the next day.

The U.S. State Department has mixed allegiances. They have supported many of these dictators in the interest of worldwide political stability and favoritism for U.S. interests. During the infamous Bush era, many of these countries provided secret prisons for the U.S. for holding (and torturing) individuals who had been kidnapped and "rendered" outside the law. But over the past few days, President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have voiced support for the civil rights of the anti-dictator throngs.

It has been said that "Tunisia is the Arab Gdansk" and will provide--as Gdansk did for the Polish Solidarity movement that spread to the ousting of Communism from Eastern Europe--the beginning of the end of savage dictatorships in the Arab world. It is too early to know, but the signs are hopeful. We shall see.