Too Early For Kumbaya
Vol: 112 Issue: 27 Thursday, January 27, 2011
It began in Tunisia with a continuing series of street protests throughout the country over high unemployment, food inflation, freedom of speech, poor living conditions and endemic corruption in the government.
The demonstrations erupted following the self-immolation of a street vendor who was refused an audience with the local governor to complain about being shook down by local police.
In frustration, Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself with gasoline in front of a local government building and set himself alight.
Bouazizi’s last, desperate act of frustration triggered a wave of defiance that continued to spread until finally on January 14, 2011 Tunisian president Ben Ali stepped down from the presidency — and kept on going until he was safely out of Tunis.
Tunisian unrest began spreading across the Arab world. Demonstrations spread to Libya, Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, Albania, Lebanon and most recently, Egypt. In Egypt, protestors are chanting, “Ben Ali, tell Mubarak he is next.”
Egypt is but one of two countries to have a formalized peace treaty with Israel; the other being Jordan. Egypt’s peace treaty cost its author, Anwar Sadat, his life. Sadat was gunned down by members of the Muslim Brotherhood among his own troops as a consequence of that peace treaty.
Sadat’s vice-president, Hosni Mubarak, assumed Egypt’s presidency in 1981. Mubarak has held the office ever since, thanks in part to billions in US aid that came with his keeping the peace with Israel and his brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that assassinated his predecessor.
But like Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak keeps the peace by ruling with an iron hand and he kept his office by vote-rigging and official intimidation. And following the Tunis riots, Mubarak’s grip on power also appears to be slipping.
On Jan. 25, tens of thousands of Egyptians poured into the streets. Police appeared completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who dared to challenge them. Initially, at least, police forces allowed protesters to vent.
But by nightfall, the police responded with beatings, tear gas, water cannons and rubber-coated bullets, finally dispersing crowds by the next morning. At least four people — including one police officer — were reportedly killed, and dozens were injured.
While Mubarak is struggling to maintain power in what was one of the most stable countries in the Middle East, the more or less constant power struggle ongoing in Lebanon erupted anew following the nomination of a Hezbollah-backed politician as the new prime minister.
Demonstrations erupted almost immediately after it became clear that Hezbollah’s candidate would win. The protest turned violent when soldiers prevented a crowd of angry men from storming a Hezbollah-allied political office.
Demonstrators seized an Al Jazeera news truck and ripped it apart before setting it on fire. Extended gunfire was heard, but it remains unclear who was doing the shooting. What seems clear is that the shooting is only just beginning.
Yemenis are revolting against the thirty-two year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, in large part because of the Saleh regime’s cooperation with the United States in the war against al-Qaeda.
But it is the growing sense of anger and popular unrest in Jordan that is particularly noteworthy.
Jordan was carved out of Mesopotamia and Southern Syria by the British in 1923 without regard for tribal affiliations.
Britain installed the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan under King Abdullah Hussein in the part that became Jordan and his brother, Faisal as King of Iraq.
But while Jordan had a Mesopotamian (Hashemite) King, Britain created Trans-Jordan primarily out of what had been the Ottoman Empire’s province of Southern Syria, which included Jerusalem.
Britain divided the Jordanian territory at the Jordan River, designating that part west of the Jordan River as Palestine and that part east of the Jordan as “Trans-Jordan” and later, just Jordan.
In Jordan, where some 70% of the population self-identify as “Palestinians” the memory of “Black September”, 1970 remains fresh.
During ten days in September, King Hussein of Jordan responded to PLO/Syrian plans to assassinate him and take over the country with an assault that killed more than three thousand Palestinians.
On January 21, thousands of Jordanians took to the streets of Amman to protest against the government, egged on by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood underground.
As mentioned earlier, Jordan is the only other country to sign a formal peace treaty with Israel.
Randa Habib, Jordan’s bureau chief for Agence France Presse has covered the region for 24 years.
“What started as a spontaneous movement by common people who were concerned about rising food prices has been highjacked by the Islamists and the unions, transforming itself from a social movement into a political movement,” she said.
Tens of thousands took to the streets in Albania on January 21 to protest Sali Berisha, leader of Albania’s ruling Democratic Party.
Police retaliated with water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas until someone fired live shots into the crowd, killing three protesters. A fourth remains in critical condition with a gunshot wound to his head.
In several Algerian towns, including the capital, riots broke out after the steep jump in food prices. Five Algerians set themselves on fire mimicking the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia. More than 1,000 were injured during clashes between protesters and police.
Reports from the tightly-controlled Libyan press said that Bani Walid, just east of Tripoli was the scene of anti-government demonstrations (some say rioting) has Libyan strongman Muammar Khaddafi considering the possibilities of a threat to his forty-year iron rule.
What in the world is going on?
Most of the analysis that has been offered up to this point has been heavily censored in the West by the constraints of political correctness.
The effort to dismiss the influence of radical Islam and the links to Israel and America are hard to ignore, but evidently, not impossible to ignore, if you work at it.
It isn’t about masses of the oppressed, yearning to cast off the yoke of tyranny that weighs heavy against their necks, yearning for freedom and democracy and self-government, the way the mainstream narrative is being presented.
Most of the oppressed either don’t know they are oppressed, (how can you know if you have nothing else to compare it to?) or they don’t care, provided they approve of their oppressors.
In all the cases listed above, it is primarily a case of swapping oppressors, not lifting the yoke of oppression.
These are not hopeful signs that the grip of Middle Eastern oppression is easing and that behind the curtain are millions of Western-friendly citizens eager to embrace democracy and capitalism.
I wish that they were. But wishing isn’t the same thing as believing.
And political correctness isn’t the same thing as reality. The politically correct view is that this is not a war between religions, but the three powers involved here are Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
The main instigators throughout the region are the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and their governmental patrons. The riots aren’t in Tehran, Riyadh and Damascus.
They are in countries hostile to al-Qaeda, or those that are friendly (or at least cooperative) with Washington.
Or have peace treaties with Israel.