Sunday, February 13, 2011

 

Now Genie is out of Bottle, What Changes Await Middle East?

Chris Riddell's fabulous Sunday cartoon once again says so much about the events in Egypt. The wider implications of the toppling of Mubarak also concerns The Economist this week. It's 'shoe-throwers index' (not shown in linked article for some reason) shows that its calculations based on stats like percentage of population who are under 25, longevity of regime and degree of unemployment indicates that the next most likely to revolt Arab countries are Yemen, Libya and Syria with Saudi Arabia- arguably the key country after Egypt, ranked at number 8.

Algeria is at number 9 but, along with Yemen, seems to be the one manifesting the most unrest. Maybe the key factor, not included by The Economist, is the strength of the army and police; protesters in Algeria yesterday were seen off quite easily. In Egypt, the role of the army has been central. It was the foundation on which the regimes of both Mubarak's two predecessor's rested and was crucial in his eventual despatch to his Sharm el Sheikh retirement home. The 82 year old's television address on Wednesday was widely expected- by his armed forces, even the CIA and Obama- to contain his resignation but he had fooled everyone and said he was going to stay until September.

No doubt he would have used such a hiatus to rebuild his power position and continue an apparent contest with Mugabe to establish a new record in corrupt geriatric leadership. The army, which speedily called time after Hosni's bold ploy, will still define the limits to the Egypt's 'revolution' as it's ruling council now has become its official guardian and determinant of what the recent turbulence will eventually deliver. As the army is a major force in the land with huge economic interests no doubt featherbedding its ruling elite, we should not hold our breath too expectantly. And one can hardly expect the young protesters in Thahrir Square to stay there indefinitely.

The USA, as the sponsor of so many Middle East autocracies, will also be crucial, along with its soft and hard power not to mention the $2bn annual 'aid' it has given to Egypt's military. Obama will try hard to defend the brittle alliance in favour of the present status quo, especially regarding Israel but now the democratic insurgency genie is out of the bottle nobody can predict what further changes it will wreak.

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