Monday, January 17, 2011



Tim MarshallJanuary 17, 2011 10:53 AM

When the Tunisian graduate Mohammed Bouazizi set fire to himself last month he didn't just ignite the protests which swept a dictator from power, he shook the ruling elites across the region, and appears to have inspired others to follow his example.

An Egyptian man set fire to himself outside the parliament in Cairo on Monday. Policemen used extinguishers to put out the fire and the man was taken to hospital. Over the weekend it was reported that up to four men set themselves alight in Algeria. The website of El Khabar newspaper said one, Mohsen Bouterfif, poured petrol over himself after a meeting with the mayor in the town of Boukhadra. When the mayor was unable to provide Bouterfif with a job and house he set fire to himself leading to his death and a small protest by about 100 young men.

Another website claimed (graphic image) three other men across the country had made similar protests but had survived their burns. This has not been confirmed.

In Jordan, several thousand people, energised by the events in Tunisia marched for greater freedoms, and in Sudan the tiny secular opposition movement called for protests.

However, this does not mean that a Tunisian style coup d'etat or even a revolution is likely in the near future.

Tunisia seems to have been a coup, not a revolution, although the coup might lead to genuine social change. Last friday the head of the army refused to open fire on protestors and instead surrounded the Presidential Palace and the airport. By this time it seems the President had already thrown in the towel. The Prime Minister could hardly have 'taken control' without the army and at the moment the only thing between anarchy and a functioning country is the army. Behind the scenes it is pulling the strings. The military may deliver free elections, we should know within weeks.

The countries most at risk in the region in the medium to long term are thought to be Algeria, Morocco, Libya, and Egypt. New technology has bypassed the elites usual way of controlling information which has in turn eroded their authority . All the North African countries have old leaders and young populations, three have taken measures to prevent a Tunisian style uprising.

The Libyan elite has cleverly used oil money and the tribal system to buy off dissent, Algeria's experience with jihadists in the 1980's and 90's has made the population wary of instability and Algiers has introduced a degree of democracy giving an outlet to frustrations. Morocco is poorer and more at risk but has a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary system which includes an Islamist party.

Egypt appears to be most vulnerable. President Mubarak is old, ill, and trying to ensure his son takes over. The country is poor, and the system is rigged against opposition parties. The largest opposition group is the Muslim Brotherhood which has mass support and is well organized through the mosque system. Egypt is a country of 80 million people. What happens there matters to the rest of the Arab world and the Tunisians have shown the Egyptians what is possible.

This doesn't mean it will happen soon. But it makes it likley it will happen eventually. Everyone is planning for the day.

jerome webberPosted by: jerome webber from Ramat Gan, Israel on January 17, 2011 11:43 AM
Tim undoubtedly Violent change will occur in the Arab World , unfortunately the Islamists will be the main benefactors not the people & if the Jihadists get their hands on Oil Revenues anywhere then it will not just be an Iranian Bomb program we have to contend with. If we take the US under Pres.Bush applying extreme pressure on Israel to allow free & fair elections in the P.A. areas & the result being Hamas elected then we will reap a Bitter Harvest anywhere the West tries to impose democracy. Better a Moderate Dictator / Ruler like the Jordanian, Morrocan or Egyptians have than a another Saddam or Khomeni ! I reiterate my contention that Democracy is too precious to Squander on the Arabs who do not want it anyway! Remember that Hitler acieved power by the ballot box not by the bullet, so some times even the Democratic system fouls up & in the Arab world it will not work at all!