An Arab Winter

Cloudy Skies, Changing Seasons

The promise of an “Arab Spring” may yield a “winter of discontent”. In Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) continues the dictatorship after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Democratic elections promised by August are delayed to November 28. SCAF used some of the extra time to unilaterally write the rules governing the election process. Voting will take 6 months, allowing plenty of time to manipulate the outcome. Further facilitation will be provided by the absence of any international observers to witness the elections. SCAF has banned them.

Free Expression

The Egyptian military and the civil courts have each given some indication of how democratic protest and other forms of free expression will be tolerated. The widely reported massacre of Coptic Christians is one example. Less-reported instances of Islamic attacks on Copts occur on a regular basis. The Copts constitute a 10 percent marginalized minority in this nation of 80 million. Assertion of Islamic fundamentalism could well lead to policies bordering on genocide.

There are other examples. In a carryover of Mubarak regime practice, a man was recently sentenced by an Egyptian court to 3 years of hard labour for “insulting Islam” on Facebook. The story was released by the official Egyptian MENA news agency and further reported by Agence France-Presse. Ayman Yusef Mansur was arrested in August. The police tracked him down through his internet address.

A Human Rights Watch researcher in Cairo pointed out that the provisions for instigating such prosecutions are very vague; an article in the suspended constitution states that Islam is the main source of law. Islamic factions are lobbying to ensure the article is maintained.

These conditions chill the political debate over the role of religion in the state and constitute restrictions on the press and social media, according to the researcher, Heba Morayef. No kidding.

Libyan Spring

Neighbouring Libya is in a deteriorated state of flux. Geographically bifurcated and politically weak, Libya has just managed to unite long enough to get rid of Mu’ammar al-Qadhdhāfi. However, the National Transitional Council of Libya (NTC) immediately fell into confusion as to what to do with the body. Islamic tradition is that burial be made within 24 hours. With such a unifying tradition in play, it speaks to the chaos that is likely to accompany attempts at organizing and holding democratic elections in this oil-rich cesspool if a burial presented such a challenge. News has also emerged that the NTC may prosecute someone for the killing of Qadhdhāfi.

Libya, with a population of 6 million, got worldwide attention during the war. It may have had something to do with the fact that Libya has lots of oil available by surface extraction. The NTC will face a great organizational challenge amidst continuing western attention if it is to meet its objective of forming a new constitutional democracy. The many unique clan and tribal structures will affirm the futility of trying to please everybody.

Egyptian Stability

In Egypt, the military holds a firm political grip. Protests began on January 25, inspired by the successful revolt in tiny Tunisia. But that was just a catalyst. Fifty percent of the Egyptian population is under 25, well educated but economically deprived. These energetic youth kept the revolt going.

To attain some stability in a political-economic sense, the military leaders likely realize that employment opportunities need to be developed fast. (This realization does not extend to include the idea of political and economic freedom however.) Egypt has economic potential; it is geographically central and relatively diversified. But Egypt also needs oil. It has no hydrocarbon industry of its own. Here is where things can get interesting.

A New Season

The relatively powerful military controlling the restive Egyptian economy needs to perform in such a way as to stimulate economic progress. A weakened chaotic Libya is ripe for outside intervention.

Although western nations financed and participated in the war that led to the execution of strongman Qadhdhāfi, appreciation will not carry far enough to overcome the resentment that will build within the Libyan nation if western intervention continues. People are so ungrateful after you spend a few billion dollars to get rid of their tormentor.

Those politically-correct participants who claimed it was not really a war but a humanitarian effort to prevent Qadhdhāfi from committing wholesale slaughter, can go home now that the job is done. That could be the rallying cry for Egyptian intervention.

Libyan oil could stimulate economic growth in both nations. Egypt will surely be tempted to promote a regional hegemony by bringing Libya into its fold, countering the Iranian influence over Iraq as the US leaves that quagmire. Watch for the fate of Libya to be strongly influenced by the Egyptians rather than by Britain, France, Italy or the United States.

©Copyright 2011 Edward Podritske

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