Saturday, February 5, 2011

Arab uprise

What does democracy mean to ordinary Egyptians?

As mobs fall into each other’s throat, looters ransack shops and houses; democracy and freedom resonate in the air. Sure, get rid of Mubarak the dictator yes, but then what?

Neither Egypt nor any other Arab state has democratic traditions. Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party movement has governed most, a degenerated socialist club established in the Soviet era that quickly turned into ugly and corrupt dictatorships, anything but socialist. Of course they had to start one way another you would think, a democratic process just like French did in 1789.

Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party emblem
But there is one crucial difference between French revolution and the Arab uprise. Powerful secular elite designed political process and drove the French Revolution by enormous intellectual vigour despite turmoil and violence. Evolving towards democracy wasn’t easy as they suffered the eras of Terror and Napoleonic Dictatorship but in the end intellectual throttle paid off.

Whereas today’s Arab uprise in the Middle East lacks genuinely pluralistic and sufficiently organised democratic ideas backed by a powerful yet non-existent middle class. They simply don’t have it. The only organised political power watching and waiting on its prey seems to be radical Islam, and therefore radical Islam will have the greatest chance to seize power subject to US intervention.

US, the architect state of ‘moderate Islam’ policy against radicalism is now caught aghast in premature timing of events and unprecedented ripple effect of Arab uprising. The chaos opens a large window of opportunity for radical Islam to exploit. After Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, why not Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt? It is no longer a distant prospect. An enormous power vacuum is rapidly sweeping the region that surely enough traditionally sound, legitimate yet feeble democratic institutions will not be able to fill.

Economic downturn, endless war in Afghanistan, endless violence in Iraq, rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan, nuclear-ambitious Iran, and now the Arab uprise. The West and US in particular is in real trouble in terms of their crippled capacity to intervene not to mention even if they do given their track record it would unlikely produce results. Yet now that oil reserves are at greater risk and Israeli-Arab peace deal in jeopardy they simply can’t ignore the turmoil. The West needs to get on top of the situation despite their limited ability to engage.

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