It’s hard to blog about what’s happening in North Africa and the Middle East because it’s hard to write without offering predictions. I hate giving predictions. It’s amateur hour when people spew predictions about any part of the world, especially the Middle East. It’s just damn near impossible to try to see what lies ahead. Without offering predictions, I will try to make sense out of what’s happening in the region. First, and I know this sounds pretty simple and cliche, but the Tunisian Revolution has changed things, it really has. It shattered the aura of the invincibility of Arab dictatorships. Now, protests are happening in Algeria, Yemen, and most notable of all, Egypt. I do feel, however, that the Mubarak regime is the hardest to unseat mainly because its existence fulfills a crucial component of American-Israeli policy in the region, i.e. ensuring the security of Israel’s southern border. Professor AbuKhalil has even opined that the Mubarak dictatorship is so crucial to US-Israeli policy that they will do whatever necessary to prevent its downfall. What that means, I think, is that if things really begin to unravel, the two governments will sponsor a military coup and/or a military solution to what’s happening on the streets of Egypt. A massive and sustained uprising intertwined with concerted labor strikes, however, can render a military solution unfeasible. I don’t know how strong the labor unions are in Egypt, but labor action was vital both to the Iranian and Tunisian revolutions.
What is certain is that the Middle East has been inspired and awakened by their Tunisian counterparts. When the protests happened after the elections in Iran in ’09, I read this amazing article in Lebanon’s “Daily Star” about how a few Arab regimes loved to see the Iranian government fall, but not at the hands of a popular uprising because they feared that such a revolt would spur their own masses to action. Tunisia has given life to these Arab regimes’ worst nightmare. Thus, if Egypt is the hardest to unseat, I feel that if another Arab dictatorship that isn’t as sustained by the US as say, Yemen, were to fall, it would further inspire the Egyptians to orchestrate a revolution, or perhaps, the revolution where it matters most, the political and cultural capital of the Arab world. It is not a prediction nor an exaggeration when I tell you that such a revolution would have ramifications that will change the entire region and with it the world.
But lets not be naive, the Mubarak regime’s fall is no where near certain. What concerns me most is the possibility of the Egyptian government staging some sort of bomb attack against its own government installations and calling it “terrorism” or provoking riots and then launching a full scale crackdown/massacre all in the name of “national security.” This is by no stretch of the imagination impossible. Governments are notorious for staging their own justifications for cracking down on dissent.
In terms of the mainstream media’s coverage of what’s happening in the Middle East in general and Egypt in particular is absolutely disgusting. It’s times like these when I feel that the US media is the 4th branch of the US government, or at least an integral part of the ruling elite. When the protests broke out in Iran, the news channels were falling over themselves to cover the movement and glamorize and glorify it. The coverage of the Egyptian protests have been the opposite bordering on fearmongering. They talk about how dangerous and how disastrous it would be for US national security if the Mubarak dictatorship, an American ally, fell to a popular democratic movement while they cheered on the democratic movement that was lining up against the regime in Iran, America’s arch foe. The fearmongering suggests that the US media could quite possibly be preparing Americans to accept if not welcome an Egyptian military crackdown that could make the Islamic regime’s repression of the Green Movement seem like a picnic. I hope I’m wrong.
Professor AbuKhalil had this to say about the media’s double standards:
“The Egyptian regime is clamping down hard: they stopped the internet altogether, they stopped SMS, (and Twitter and Facebook obviously shut down). Vodaphone and two other phone companies stopped SMS. Najib Suwayrus, the Egyptian billionaire friend of Jamal Mubarak, is a collaborator in the repression. Even the regime’s mouthpiece, Al-Ahram, has been shut down. Egyptian goons are erasing clips of repression from Youtube. In Suez, the land lines are down. What if this was Iran?? And when there were protests in Iran, Twitter (the company) and Facebook (the company) came out in support of the protesters. The US media were enamored with the protesters back then. Why are those protesters not sexy for you? You can’t say that they are Islamists this time (as if Islamists have no rights to protest–but let us go along with the argument for the sake of it), and yet they are all alone. It will be remembered (when you ask now and later why they hate us), that Mubrak’s repression took place with the full support of both parties in the US and the Obama administration. Do you know now why whenever a US official, any US official, ever utter the word “democracy”, Arabs get a strong urge to throw up? In Iran, the US covertly smuggled those cute camera pens for demonstrators. They were not cute enough for the Egyptian people.”
Lastly, tomorrow is Friday prayers, which is an opportune moment to bring people together for political purposes. To that end, massive demonstrations are set to take place afterward, this time with Egypt’s largest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, throwing their lot in with the protest movement. The government predictably is taking measures to prevent the demonstrations, such as lining up main thoroughfares with security personnel, shutting down access to mobile phones, SMS, and to facebook and twitter (or perhaps they don’t want us seeing what’s going to happen). Nonetheless, whatever happens tomorrow, it’ll be a reminder that one man’s life (Muhammad Bouazizi in Tunisia) has changed everything.