Crisis Proliferation in the Middle East
Ali Asghar Kazemi
January 20, 2011
Social and political crises are by nature very contagious and if not rationally managed or contained can rapidly proliferate through an extended region geared up for reform and revolution.
The crisis in Tunisia that escalated to its threshold, turned into a full-scaled revolution leaving behind a people in furor, a regime in disarray and a nation in chaos. Remnants of the old regime tried in vain to re-establish a new government (The National Unity Government) but people continue to stay in the streets raising their demands to the points unbearable by the interim government. They want the old party (Democratic Constitutional Rally) in power be dissolved and their corrupt members arrested and tried. Interestingly, this party was once itself a liberating movement around which the Tunisians gathered to oust another old and allegedly medically unfit dictator ( Habib Bourguiba). It was then called a “constitutional coup d’état.”
The Arab League has convened an extraordinary session in Egypt in order to discuss the matter. Heads of the league and some Arab states warned against the imminent crisis situation in other member states having trouble with unemployment, inflation and people discontent. This all means that the crisis is perceived critical and need for its immediate management is highly felt.
It was reported that during the past several days a number of frustrated people have set themselves on fire in Algeria and Egypt. Street riots have started in South Yemen and Jordan in support of Tunisian revolution. Most ordinary and educated people in the Arab world are in a state of alarm and continually watching development of the crisis trends. The expectation that something is to be done has made the political environment in these countries ready to ignite. Radical changes seem to be on the corner and getting momentum by minutes.
In Tunisia a group of Muslim zealous took to the city square prayed Allah for the success of their revolution; an ominous sign that many people and countries around the region do not appreciate. Some feared that the revolution be hijacked by the Islamist fundamentalists and some expressed hope for a democratic free society. Apparently, the disarray is quite alarming and police force is not capable to establish order. Most people are asking the Army to intervene.
This prompted the Iranian official media, which had kept silent initially, to take position by applauding the “Islamic revolution” of Tunisia and warned foreign countries not to intervene in the internal affairs of this Muslim state. Indeed, such designate may not please many Arab states and people who fear the rise of fundamentalism in the region.
According to analyst in the Arab world, “Tunisia had mixed fortunes under Ben Ali. On the brighter side, Ben Ali did well in infrastructural development in his country.” But the other side of the story is what lies behind the ongoing protests that caused the downfall of Tunisian president and his regime. “Intolerance, oppression of political dissent, massive levels of corruption by the political elites, huge inequalities between the masses and those close to the centers of power, and an incredible level of arrogance of the latter in their treatment of the former,” can be cited as factors in the darker side.
Usually most dictators tend to overlook the darker side of their rule, on the account that they expect people to be grateful of the goods they made for the country. The Shah of Iran had the same feeling when he left the country. He kept asking “why the people did that to me, I did so much good for them!” Unfortunately he missed the point that economic growth alone without social participation and political development is not the remedy for progress.
Students of political science are well aware of the academic debate concerning the relation between development and democracy. These two magic words are in fact corollary to each others. That is to say that in final account one without the other is doomed to failure. The lesson is crystal clear from experiences around the world. Lack of democracy and genuine respect for men’s fundamental rights are vital impediments for faire and just distribution of wealth and opportunity that pave the way for economic development.
Indeed, there are schools of thoughts that argue ” democracy or ‘political good governance,’ is not necessary for economic prosperity.” They give examples of a number of “today’s established democracies that began experiencing economic prosperity before becoming democratic.”
Perhaps China is the example in this regard. Yet, we have ample evidences to the contrary. May be the case of pre-revolution Iran is a good case. Of course, democracy alone is not sufficient factor for economic progress and prosperity. But, as long as true democracy necessarily leads to the rule of law and respect for people rights to question the ruling power, this will ensure the accountability of political system.
Authoritarian regimes do not like to be accountable to people fearing that this might diminish their authority to rule the nation the way the wish. This will indeed leads to the situations in which lack of mutual respect and confidence leaves no choice other than mass uprising and revolution, prescribed by all “social contract” political philosophers and practitioners.
The current crisis situation is susceptible to proliferate throughout the Middle East and North Africa. It is causing concern to Western powers that are caught in a difficult dilemma: How to deal with the ever increasing threat of emerging Islamic fundamentalism to replace ousted corrupt regimes. Just alike the cold war period during which corrupt, undemocratic political systems were supported by them fearing their fall to the communist camp.
Almost all regimes that risk to be fallen to people’s unrest are Muslims with a more or less strong faction of dormant zealous fundamentalists, who might surface like a torrent with popular slogans and platforms that please frustrated peoples to take over the whole region. Most North African countries, particularly Egypt, Libya and, to some extent, Algeria and Morocco, have many common characteristics similar to Tunisia.
Whether revolution is an appropriate answer to political oppression, injustice, corruption, inflation, unemployment and so forth, the answer depends on whose eyes you look to the problem. Those who have no other means than taking to the streets and shouting against the ruling system and facing arrest, jail, torture and finally death, might justify their action. But, they should know that revolution is no cure to their malaises. Since, revolution can only destroy the status quo in short-run; but, in the long-run, it has nothing to offer to the frustrated people.
Revolutions have always propensity to obliterate and even refuse to look back to evaluate their performances and failures. In the end they become prisoners of their own myths and slogans and do not hesitate to punish as traitors those who turn back to them. In their final lifespan they become awfully harsh and ruthless. They even devour their own child.
There is no doubt that Tunisia will set a new model and precedent for analogous Arab countries in the region. However, with no leadership in the movement to follow a clear strategy, it is susceptible to go in the wrong direction. Meanwhile people should be much careful where they are going in the days and weeks to come. /
* Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and -International Relations in Tehran-Iran. Students, researchers, academic institutions, media or any party interested in using all or parts of this article are welcomed to do so with the condition of giving full attribution to the author and Strategic Discourse. ©All Copy Rights Reserved.