Political Unrest in the Middle East Leading to Democratic Reforms Instead of More Violence?
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, there has been a considerable amount of political unrest throughout the Middle East for the past few weeks. There have been protests all over, but most notably in Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan. More importantly, all of these uprisings have been protesting authoritarian style governments while demanding democratic reforms.
Protests began in the North African country of Tunisia, when on December 17th a street vendor set himself on fire in protest of government corruption after his unlicensed vegetable cart and produce were confiscated. Protests continued, as did violent confrontations with the police. On January 15th President Ben Ali resigned after ruling since 1987, fleeing to Saudi Arabia. These actions have inspired a domino effect of protests through Egypt, Jordan and Yemen, with varying results.
Now that President Ben Ali has resigned, Prime Minister Ghannouchi has assumed the position of caretaker. He promises elections in the next 60 days while reshaping the current government. This isn’t good enough for the people of Tunisia, who demand all RCD(Constitutional Democratic Rally) government members resign as well. This party was the party of the former president Ben Ali. In response to this, the Prime Minister dismissed these officials and has been trying to recreate a government without them. Currently, protests continue.
On February 1st in a movement towards democracy and a response to protests, Jordan’s monarch King Abduallah has dismissed his government as well, and appointed Al Bakhit as the new Prime Minister. He as charged Al Bakhit to create a new government based on real democratic reform.
Protests started in Egypt on January 16th against President Mbarak, who has reigned for the past 30 years. The people of Egypt saw what was happening in Tunisia, and in addition to starting protests of their own planned a protest on January 25th to honor those in Tunisia who had fallen. Over one million protesters spread through Cairo and Alexandria, and communicated mainly through Facebook and Twitter. Their involvement with these sites was enough that President Mbarak shut down the internet throughout the country.
On January 29th Mbarak named a vice president, something he has never done since he came to power. He named highly respected general Omar Suleiman, and dismissed the government in favor of a new one. His selection of vice president was extremely wise; every man in Egypt is required to be in the military, so it is seen as a vehicle of the people. Suleiman is connected to the people in a way that gives him advantage. However, the opposition leader el Baradei is willing to step up as well. He was previously the Director General of the IAEA(International Atomic Energy Agency) and received the Nobel Peace prize in 2005. He has said he is willing to lead a transitional government that will lead to a successful democracy and better international relations, and has the support of many people as well. A third party is present as well, the currently outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. As Egypt’s radical Islamist party, they have considerable power as well, but may not lead Egypt in a successful direction.
Ultimately these protests and riots are very important to the United States; because Egypt is the only Arab state that recognizes Israel as a country and is a friend of America, a change in this status could be extremely detrimental to Israel’s existence. However, it could also be a wave of democratic reform that is spreading through the Middle East; something that the United States should always be in support of. We shall see.
Frannie Oliver is a student at the Univeristy of Colorado here in Boulder and plays for the women’s ultimate frisbee team Kali. She is constantly learning from her experience at Elephant, about everything from WordPress to yoga.