Will Egyptian Protests Move Across the Muslim World?
Posted in: Foreign policy
Egyptian protesters credit the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia with providing the spark that got them out into the streets. But Egypt has a much larger profile worldwide. So will their revolution, if successful, continue this chain?
Already we’re seeing some signs. Protests have already occurred in Yemen and Jordan. Sudanese youths want to get out into the streets like their African bretheren, and you have to wonder whether they actually kicked this off themselves, through the revolution by ballot, the expected successful secession in the south of the country. And we could also see a return for the Green Movement in Iran, which was violently put down after fraudulent elections in 2009.
Protests in Egypt calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak have also reinvigorated Iran’s opposition, triggering calls to regroup. After contested presidential polls in the summer of 2009, hundreds of thousands of Iranians poured onto the streets to protest the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, amid allegations of voter fraud.
Iranian government forces snuffed out the demonstrations with violence, mass arrests, the suspension of Internet and phone service and broad intimidation. The streets of Tehran and most other Iranian cities have been mostly quiet since early last year.
But on Sunday, the main student activist website, Daneshjoo News, issued a statement calling for a big opposition demonstration on the anniversary of the Islamic Republic on Feb. 12th. Bloggers also are calling on opposition leaders to rejoin the fray.
That’s just two weeks away. Iran’s protesters were early adopters to these tactics, and are getting strength from the very movements that got strength from them.
I would guess that these are the thoughts that keep US policymakers up at night. They had little problem from repressive but stable autocrats in the Muslim world. This construct guided US policy for at least 50 years, and they’re likely to be much more comfortable with the devil they know.
They need to rethink this. I don’t want to sound triumphalist, and it’s entirely possible that this movement toward democracy could fizzle in the short term. But in the long term, I think we can say that this will be the emerging trend. Many Muslim societies are extremely young, with a majority of citizens under 30. They are growing up in a new world, far more exposed to worldwide events, and they want the freedom that they believe comes with citizenship. I don’t think that’s preventable over time.
That means it’s time to rethink the entire notion of propping up dictators that can work in accord with US interests as the basis for international relations in the Muslim world. And from Ben Ali to Mubarak to whoever else, the citizens will not accept the dictator to cloak himself in the garb of the reformer. They do not have the credibility, and neither does anyone who just blandly calls for “reform.”
So whether these protests move now or in the future, it’s clear they will move. And US foreign policy must adapt to these changing events, as they cannot for much longer accept repression in the name of national security.
…The million-dollar question here is oil. It’s probably a good time to develop a new energy economy so there isn’t this reliance on a region where you have to make the decision on supporting dictatorships.