Friday, February 04, 2011

A new template

IF the 30-year repressive rule of President Hosni Mubarak crumbles—and most of the world hopes it would—then what political observers call “new template” for change will have so much bearing on Arab countries all the way from Algeria to Yemen that look up to Egypt, the most populous Arab nation.

Political pundits surmise that neighboring Arab countries maybe taking the cue from Mubarak. Writer Abigail Hauslohner of Cairo, for instance, forwards an analysis that “If he is able to extinguish the protests by brute force, expect others to follow suit. But if the protesters force their ruler into making major political concessions, it will be hard for other Arab states to deny the same to their people. And if Mubarak goes the way of Ben Ali, expect panic in presidential palaces from Algiers to Sana’a.”

This latest saga started with the success of the Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution which put an end to the 23-year rule of Zine el Abidine ben Ali last January 15. It inspired almost immediately the uprising that begun on January 25 in Cairo’s central Midan Tahrir or Liberation Square with tens of thousands of people brandishing antigovernment posters and chanting anti-Mubarak slogans. Reminiscent of Manila’s “Sobra na, tama na!” in February of 1986, Cairo’s burgeoning protesters croon “Enough is enough!”

But what’s chilling is the trailblazing of a new concept of citizenship that is no longer coming from the traditional force of Islamists but from the outpouring of popular dissent in a seemingly new political landscape. Shawki al-Qadi, an opposition lawmaker in nearby Yemen said, “The street is not afraid of governments anymore. It is the opposite. Governments and their security forces are afraid of the people now. The new generation, the generation of the Internet, is fearless. They want their full rights, and they want life, a dignified life.”

The Arab world is currently watching the unfolding of a political theater that seems to suggest that the order of things may never be the same again. The concepts of “revolution” and “uprising” though trite in the other side of the globe is something revolutionary and is reverberating shivers across Yemen, Jordan, Syria and even Saudi Arabia—regions that have long reeled from government corruption, repression and, worse, stagnation. Of late, Mubarak regime has pursued an economic development plan of rapid liberalization, promising to deliver jobs and modernity in the process. But the truth in the ground is that unemployment has become higher and the cost of living has intolerably risen far more than the wages.

As of this writing, clashes between government forces and protesters that now have been joined by organized Muslim Brotherhood is heavily escalating and, unlike the outset, is getting more violent. Whatever happens in the next couple of days, the questions that politicians and scholars have debated remain: Will a more democratic Egypt become a radical Islamic state? Can democracy work in the Arab world?

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