Is there a possibility that Egyptian protests, like the Tunisian protests for Egypt, will lead to similar results in other Arab countries? Here’s what’s brewing:
Facebook pages are popping up calling for Syrians to follow the Egyptian example, which also sparked protests via social media and the blogosphere. Syria has about 7.8% (as of 2008) internet penetration, which is roughly equal to Egypt’s. Despite Facebook being officially banned in Syria, access can be obtained via proxy servers. According to a MEMRI report:
In the past week, Syrian activists have been using Facebook to call for mass protests in Syria on Saturday, February 5, 2011, dubbing it the “Day of Rage.” In Facebook pages created specifically for this purpose, members have called on the Syrian public to take to the streets on that date and stage peaceful demonstrations and rallies in all parts of the country, as well as in front of Syrian embassies in Arab and European capitals, in protest of the oppressive Syrian regime.
Syrian authorities have prepared the security forces. They already dispersed one solidarity protest on Saturday. The President, Bashar al-Assad, is raising fuel subsidies and tightening control on the internet to mollify public discontent and stem possible unrest.
King Hussein dismissed his cabinet and appointed Marouf Bakhit as the new Prime Minister. However, the protests in Jordan have been largely calling for reform rather than regime change. According to a report in LA Times:
Even the Islamic Action Front, Jordan’s main opposition group and a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, has denounced the kind of regime change being called for in Egypt.
Protests have spread to Saudi Arabia, but are relatively small and focused on demanding infrastructure improvements and an end to corruption. Video of the protests below:
While protests point to widening discontent in the Arab world, each country’s predicament is unique. Yemen was already in turmoil before Tunisia/Egypt. Algerian protesters continue to organize but its not yet clear what they will achieve. In Saudi Arabia, people are orders of magnitude wealthier due to the country’s oil, which means there is less discontent. Protests were relatively small and easily dispersed. Jordanians focused their anger on the recently dismissed Prime Minister rather than the monarchy, the true source of power. It is difficult to read Syria’s public mood from available news reports. No doubt there is much frustration, but the chances of mass protests leading to an overthrow of the government are infinitesimal. Of course, that was the consensus about Egypt not too long ago. US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks quote the US Ambassador’s view that Mubarak will “inevitably” win the next presidential election and stay in office for life.
The protests are indeed exciting. A tired people standing up to oppressive rules; change coming to a stale and recalcitrant region. But no matter how valid the objections, change is not automatically for the best. To close, a sobering piece in Slate.com by Shmuel Rosner (a former guest of StreetSmartPolitics.com):
Revolutions can bring chaos, or failure, or even more oppression, or radical Islamization, or terrible violence. They create opportunity not just for the good guys (human rights activists) but also for the bad guys (Hezbollah, Iran). They take time and patience and determination and planning and, yes, caution. And while there’s very little most observers can do to help them succeed, the least they can do is greet the revolution that is unfolding in their living rooms with wariness rather than a reality-show response of juvenile glee.
David Bratslavsky analyzes US foreign policy and the Middle East. He studied politics, language and religion in Washington, D.C., Tel Aviv, Cairo and Jerusalem. Become a Facebook fan of Street Smart Politics. Follow on Twitter.