A forum devoted to current political, economic trends, and news of the Maghreb region.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Arab Awakening Sweeping Through the Middle East

Tunisia has decidedly inspired the Arab street and the wind of freedom is moving east. As Tunisians labor through their post-uprising political experiment, Egyptian street has erupted in all corners of the country from Cairo to Suez demanding en end to Hosni Mubarak's 29-year autocratic rule. But unlike Ben 'Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak has decided to ride out this wave of demonstrations, plunging the whole country in a complete media blackout with no Internet.

After four days of deafening silence, a frail but defiant Mubarak appeared on national TV to sack his government, pledging to "fulfill his presidential duties" towards the Egyptian people for order and security. Mubarak's speech is unlikely to quench Egyptians' thirst for regime change. Many contend such change resides in the military, which will have to forego its privileges and economic interests to appease the Egyptian street.

There is a feeling that an Arab awakening is taking place. This does not appear motivated by any one coherent ideological perspective or by external forces. The Islamist discourse didn't feature in the Tunisian uprising, nor is it prominent in the Egyptian "days of wrath." Instead, what we have are angry citizens disenchanted with despotic kakistocratic systems and bleak socio-economic prospects.

One tend to forget that Islamism is less of a force in Tunisia today due to years of state repression. Most importantly, Tunisia is an exception among the Arab states in its institutional and social secular character, first rooted by Habib Bourguiba after the independence from France in 1956. In Egypt, cradle of modern political Islam, a free post-Mubarak system will undoubtedly feature a strong presence for the Muslim Brotherhood, arguably the most organized political group in the country.

Henceforth, the tendency, even the jubilation among some to declare Islamism obsolete is premature and wrong. Similarly, dismissing the hitherto resilient Arab authoritarian state as a house of card susceptible to devastating mass street level revolutions is also misguided. If there is one thing that the Arab regimes have perfected throughout the years is the ability to reinvent their autocratic structures and placate new challenges to their authority. Alas, much to the chagrin of those of us longing for democratic transition in the Arab world.

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