It is now two years since the rude jolt that sent several Arab leaders hurtling to the hard ground of the reality that they themselves have had no small part in creating. Dozens of years of dictatorship, criminal neglect, political corruption, cronyism and nepotism, have turned the Arab world into a barrel of extremely explosive gun powder. The Arab satellite media, especially Al Jazeera, the jihad channel of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been flooding the area with high octane gas fumes by broadcasting unrestrained propaganda against the Arab dictators – “the rulers of the 99 percent below zero” in their words – led by Mubarak, Asad, Qadhaffi and Saddam Hussein.
This channel served as the pyromaniac who carried the burning torch from one arena to another, from Tunisia to Egypt, from Libya to Yemen, from Bahrain to Syria as its spokesmen, headed by the Emir of Qatar asked: “Who will be next?” The masses, addicted to this channel since the end of 1996, did what was expected of them by the people of the channel, chiefly the Emir of Qatar, Hamed bin Khalifa al-Thani, who built up tremendous power for himself by means of the reckless satellite channel, which exerts control over the hungry, neglected, oppressed and wretched masses.
It is not within the scope of this article to give a detailed review of the last two years in each one of the states involved in the upheaval, but we shall mark the end point to which each of them arrived.
Tunisia – The Opening Shot
In December 2010, in the peripheral town of Sidi Bou Said, a young, unemployed man by the name of Muhammad bou Azizi immolated himself, and the flames ignited the fumes wafting around the Arab barrel of gun powder. The demonstrations caused president Zine al-Abadine bin Ali to flee the country, but not before he and his wife stole a ton and a half of gold from the central bank.
In elections held in 2011, the Islamic party, which had been banned until then, won first place. However, since it did not win a majority of seats in the parliament, it had to form a coalition with a secular party headed by Munsaf al-Marzouki, a liberal intellectual, who fought for years for human rights in Tunisia and lived in exile until 2011 because of his criticism of President bin Ali. The leader of the Islamic stream, Rashid al-Ghanoushi, offered the secular al-Marzouki to serve as president of Tunisia, which made it easier for the secular sectors of society to accept the legitimacy of the new regime, even though the Islamic party was predominant.
From this point of view, the change in Tunisia is a source of inspiration, especially in light of the fact that it is the first experiment to create a democratic political system after long years of the autocratic rule of presidents Bourugiba and bin Ali. The hopes of the citizens of Tunisia skyrocketed.
But the relative stability in the political arena did not bring about meaningful change in the life of the individual, especially in his economic situation. There are many reasons for this: the corrupt governmental system, large parts of which remain from the days of bin Ali and continued to conduct itself according to the practice of “a friend brings a friend”; the infrastructures are still in the same miserable state that they were in during bin Ali’s time; The investors do not rush to invest in initiatives in Tunisia that might create sources of livelihood; the economic crisis in Europe prevents significant growth of production. The Tunisian citizen now understands that his political hopes, which were fulfilled well, did not translate into a significant improvement in his economic situation.
Another issue that did not undergo a meaningful change is the social stratification in Tunisia. The Tunisian population is polarized between the urban elite and the marginal layers that live in the agricultural suburbs and the desert, the greater part of whom live within a tribal framework. The city is much more open, secular and liberal than the periphery, which remain closed, religious and traditional.
The ethnic issue also has a negative influence on the sense of unity in Tunisia, because in addition to the Arabs who live there, there are also Berbers and Africans, who suffer from a negative image. This situation exists regardless of the regime and the change resulting from the removal of bin Ali has had no influence on the social stratification in Tunisia.
As a result of the economic difficulties, Tunisia has witnessed a series of protest demonstrations against the regime in recent months, mainly in the periphery. Things have even reached the point where President al-Mourzuki, who came last week to the town of Sidi Bou Said – the focal point from where the upheaval that eventually encompassed the Arab world began – in order to participate in a ceremony in memory of Muhammad Bou Azizi, was forced to retreat from the place because of the rocks that were rained down upon him, and because of the cries and curses that were hurled at him. He wanted democracy and got it right in his face, and the people wanted democracy but have now understood that it is not a money-printing machine.
There is not an optimistic forecast for Tunisia: the economic situation in the world in general and in Europe in particular is not expected to improve dramatically in the near future; the administration will not change its imbedded habits of corruption, and social stratification will continue to have a negative influence on opportunities for the country, especially for the youth who live in the social and economic periphery. The resentment that results from these flaws has a negative influence on political stability and the lack of stability may have a negative influence on investments and consequently on the economic situation as well.
For the Tunisian masses who support the Islamic movement it has become clear that the movement was no magic wand that can solve the country’s problems, and it is not clear if there is anything at all to the slogan “Islam is the Solution”, which was the watchword of the party.
Egypt – A Complicated Tangle
On the 25th of January, it will be two years since the beginning of the upheaval in Egypt. There are are many significant accomplishments of the revolution: Mubarak, the corrupt dictator sits in the defendant’s cage, the heads of his government have been removed – some of them to prison – in disgrace, the Muslim Brotherhood has won the office of presidency and half of the seats of parliament, the military “has been put in its place” by an Islamic president, and even the president of the United States receives the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood as a fait accompli.
However, the situation in Egypt is complicated and complex on a number of levels: the free youth of the revolution, the liberals, the secular, the educated and the unemployed, who with their bodies removed Mubarak and paid for the demonstrations against him in blood, have discovered that their revolution has been stolen from them. In their worst nightmares they did not foresee that the civil revolution would become an Islamic revolution. Women in casual shirts and jeans who demonstrated two years ago in Tahrir (“liberation”) Square did not expect that as a result of the revolution, representatives of the Salafist party, those who believe that “the best hijab for a woman is her house,” would occupy a quarter of the seats of parliament.
But the political disappointments – as great as they are – are much, much less disheartening than the economic ones. In Egypt too, most of the administration of the previous regime has remained in place, and it is filled with layers of hidden unemployment, excess employees, cumbersome bureaucracy, and nepotism. The chance that it will bring the country to a state of development and prosperity are no greater than in the days of Mubarak.
Tourism, which, in the days of Mubarak granted livelihood to millions of Egyptians, has disappeared and with it, this important source of livelihood for many Egyptians. These people today live far below the poverty line, which, in Egypt, is quite low to begin with. Foreign investors have refrained for the past two years from investing in Egypt, because the security situation is not stable and it is not clear to them if they will see any profit at all from their investment, which might go down the drain.
The lack of investments has a negative influence on the creation of new sources of employment for the masses of Egyptians who enter the work force every year, to establish a family and to support it. The many unemployed university graduates who come up against the severe employment reality, cause an explosive social situation; the average age of marriage is rising and has passed the 30 mark, establishing a family (“opening a home”) has become an impossible economic task for most of the youth and this is enough to launch them into the streets to let off the steam that has accumulated against the symbols of the regime, institutions of the state and police stations.
The constitution, which was recently approved, grants many authorities to the president at the expense of the other institutions, mainly the parliament, and it starts to smell like a dictatorship. Many – even among the religious sectors of society – ask if this is what the Muslim Brotherhood has come to power for.
The activity of parliament, which was elected about a year ago, was frozen by an edict of the court, and it doesn’t seem that the president is rushing to renew the activity of the parliament. He does not want to be called upon to answer embarrassing questions that might be addressed to him from parliament, which has authority because it was chosen by democratic and fair elections. Morsi is not interested in a parliament that will pass budgetary laws that are not consistent with his opinion, and in general – the combination of a president with a clear cultural, social and political agenda and a parliament which is polarized within by various contradictory trends, is not a prescription for political stability, but rather for a dead end, with the two sides stuck in an embrace where each side sticks a knife into the other.
Two years after the upheaval in Egypt and this country seems like a rickety wagon with several formidable and powerful horses pulling it at full speed, but in different directions: the president, the constitutional committee, the members of parliament, the military, the government, which is always temporary, the secular street, the religious street, the Salafis and supporters of Mubarak.
The forecast for the future is not rosy, because the constitutional-governmental knot has a bad influence on the economy, which is collapsing in the first place, and the struggle for the cultural image of Egypt slips too many times into violence that causes more violence from the police and raises the ire of the public to levels reminiscent of the rage that accompanied the struggle against Mubarak.
In retrospect it could be that among the Muslim Brotherhood there are those who feel that it was a mistake on their part to try to drive the rickety Egyptian cart, because there is no chance to come to any positive goal, and they – despite inheriting a very difficult situation form Mubarak and Tantawi – will be identified with the failure.
Syria – The Next Massacre
For 21 months, since March of 2011, observers of the events have the sense that the collapse of Asad is near, and with his collapse the state will be broken up into homogeneous units: Kurds in the northeast of the country, Alawites in the west, Druze in the south, Bedouins in the East, Damascenes in the center and residents of Aleppo in the North. The idea that an autonomous Alawite unit might be established comes from information that the regime is streaming heavy weapons, ammunition and heavy equipment into the area of the mountains of Ansariyya in the West of the country, the traditional dwelling place of the Alawites, so that they will be able to defend themselves against the Muslims’ attack on the mountain and its inhabitants.
In recent days, information has begun to surface that units belonging to the Free Syrian Army are attacking the mountains of Ansariyya, and that tens of Alawite villages have been abandoned out of fear of Muslim knives that are filled with hatred for the Alawites and because of the Muslims’ strong desire to avenge upon them the deeds of slaughter that the regime has carried out against the citizens of Syria for the past two years, and also in previous periods, such as the period between 1976 and 1982, when the Muslim Brotherhood first arose, that ended in the slaughter of thousands of men, women and children in the city of Hama in February of 1982.
If this information is indeed correct and Asad’s opposition is indeed taking control of Ansariyya, this might be the physical end of the Alawaites and the end of their dream to control even themselves. The blood that will be spilled when the Muslims slaughter them will be much more than was spilled until today and it is not clear how much the world will feel compelled to help this group when push comes to shove and knives are at their throats.
What does this say about the future of Syria? It seems that Syria is sinking in a swamp of blood, fire and tears, as it is torn into pieces by hundreds of militias, some of which have cultural and religious orientation identical to that of bin Laden and al-Qaeda. This development might be very problematic for Israel because neighbors like these do not bode well and if heavy weapons or weapons of mass destruction fall into their hands, Israel might find itself in the near future coping with threats that it is not used to.
Libya – Tribal Wars
In this country, stricken by tribalism, a coalition of tribes together with massive NATO support succeeded to remove Qadhaffi, but since he was eliminated by his opposition more than a year ago, Libya has become an arena for battles between tribes over economic and governmental interests and for territory and influence. Eastern tribal headquarters – Cyrenaica – are fighting against the tribes of the West – Tripolotania, and the southern tribes are enemies of all the others.
Libyan society is polarized also on an ethnic basis, around the Arab-Berber split that has economic and governmental implications as well. The prediction is that as long as Libya continues to be one state it will continue to be an arena for tribal struggles. Why? Because – that’s the natural situation between tribes, and especially those that live in the Sahara, who for hundreds of years and more, have developed strong and dangerous “atsabiyya” (tribal rivalry) , mainly towards “the other” (anyone who is different from him). The fact that weapons are widespread in the Libyan desert means that the violence inherent to the culture of the region, is turning the matter into something particularly deadly.
Qatar – Hypocrisy At its Worst
The upheaval in the Arab world is the result of a basically terrible situation created by the regimes, an atmosphere of enmity toward the regimes created by the Al Jazeera channel and the huge fire that Muhammad bou Azizi ignited. During the past two years, the principality of Qatar has been, and still is involved up to its neck in funding the chaos and sending various types of support to Libya and Syria, and the Al Jazeera channel, which is the operative agent, ignites the problem in Arab countries by calling for democracy, human rights and freedom of expression in these countries.
But Qatar itself cannot stand up to Al Jazeera’s standards when it comes to democracy: in the beginning of this December, the Qatari court sent a 36-year old poet by the name of Muhammad ben al-Dhiab al-Ajami to prison for life, because while he praised the revolutions in the Arab world, he also criticized the Emir of Qatar. Al-Ajami went even further and called for revolution in Qatar, even though he knew that the punishment for this is death.
If the Emir of Qatar does not pardon al-Ajami, he will be inviting sharp criticism from anyone who has a mouth and a tongue in the Arab world, but he will pay no heed to the criticism and will continue to encourage the Muslim Brotherhood to take control of the rest of the countries of the Arab world, while shutting mouths in his own back yard.
A General Picture
Two years after the beginning of the upheaval in the Arab world, the picture does not arouse too much optimism. The rulers of still more countries are standing on shaky ground, and the wave may reach them too.
Israel again appears as an island of stability and sanity in a roiling and stormy sea, where rickety boats are about to sink along with their inhabitants. May Allah save the Arab peoples.
Originally published at Middle East and Terrorism. Translated from Hebrew by Sally Zahav.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar