A socio-political earthquake has arrived in the Middle East that threatens to bury a number of regimes and rulers with it.
The notion of transformation and democratisation in the Middle East has been a long-established taboo that has seemingly been smashed in a matter of weeks.
Much like the last wave of global political revolution that swept the world with the collapse of Communism in the early 90’s, the newest political hurricane has come in the Middle East with the dramatic ousting of Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power providing the catalyst for change and popular uprisings.
When the majority combine, there is no greater weapon than the notion of people power. No amount of tanks or artillery can save a government when the masses relentlessly rise against them.
Emboldened by their neighbours, the current Egyptian protests and uprising gathers momentum with every passing day. After well over two weeks of fierce battles with police, clashes with pro-government supporters and emphatic anti-government rallies, the Egyptian people simply refuse to accept anything less than the end of the reign of Hosni Mubarak now. After much pressure finally Hosni Mubarak stepped down last Friday and Egyptian military took power.
Prior to Mubarak resignation the much pressurised government had already made a number of concessions and met with opposition groups in recent weeks but with an unabated thirst across the social spectrum and a national desire that has given them an unprecedented upper hand, the people refused to buckle.
Mubarak has had a tight grip on Egyptian society for over 30 years, with a state of emergency law that is still in force today. Politician opposition has been met with little tolerance, while corruption has been rife and freedoms have been restricted.
The successful “Jasmine revolution” of Tunisia has led to many a regional government looking over their shoulders. The threat of large scale protests and social upheaval has already seen some pre-emptive concessions in Jordan and Yemen, while anti-government rallies have been witnessed in Algeria.
Ironically, even as flag-bearers for democratisation and liberation in the region, such change was not necessarily embraced with open arms by the US at the beginning. As the protests gathered momentum and the will of the Egyptian people grew stronger, so did the calls of the Washington administration for controlled and more immediate change. There was certain reluctance to call for the removal of Mubarak altogether and later after Mubarak agreed not to stand for re-election in September, for him to leave office immediately.
The stance and support to regimes such as Mubarak, demonstrated the double-barrelled nature of US policy. As much as the need to stand against repressive regimes in the Middle East in the Cold War era was offset against the threat of communism, in the same way inconsistent American policy and stance towards the democratization of the Middle East today is offset against the new threat of Islamist radicalism.
The US is a long-time ally of Mubarak where they provided billions of dollars of aid and relied on his authority to maintain a sense of regional equilibrium. Israel is another party that eagerly anticipates how the new winds of change may affect its position in the Middle East and the Palestinian peace process. Like the US, it would have preferred for its relative ally in Mubarak to stay in power.
After all, change can be a loose term especially in the Middle East. A popular revolution happened in Iran in 1979, which the West even today try to reverse in some form or another.
The wave of change and optimism that is sweeping the region is just what is needed to shake age old mentalities and prevailing systems of government. The great fear for the West is to now ensure that vacuums are not filled by Islamists or the likes of Iran.
One thing is certain, the changes and social sentiment in Egypt are not reversal. The fear factor of people fed up with the status-quo has all but evaporated. With the advent of globalization, the world is exponentially smaller and the power of mass media means that events such as those in Egypt where thousands speak out simply can not be ignored.
The after-shock of the past four weeks in the Middle East will be felt for generations to come. Much like the slogan of Karl Marx that underpinned Communism, indeed the people “have nothing to lose but their chains”.
The tipping point in Tunisia and Egypt has been the stark degradation in social and economic welfare. High unemployment, soaring inflation and a lack of hope is the icing on the cake that has come with common repression, corruption and state control. When people deem that they have nothing to live for, they simply have nothing to lose.
Such economic conditions are not unique to Egypt and have plagued the likes of Yemen, Syria and Jordan. People are unwilling to endue suffering indefinitely when their governments and the minority upper class reap the rewards of their fate. People are less inclined to accept silence and are more knowledge in terms of demands and expectations.
Events in Egypt sparked a political row in Kurdistan when the Gorran opposition movement called for the dissolution of the current Kurdish government amongst other demands.
Whilst there are certainly many strides left to make in Kurdistan, democracy is much more advanced and the region simply can not be compared to Egypt. However, this doesn’t mean that the establish political elite in Kurdistan rest on their laurels and breath a sigh of relief.
Kurdistan is need of reform and this is by the own admission of the current governance. In addition to more transparency, advancement of independent media and a fight against corruption, the KRG needs to ensure the right economic foundations are in place.
While the economy in Kurdistan is growing at a rapid pace, their needs to be a firm eye on the ever growing rich-poor divide and the establishment of a more liberal market place. The rising cost of living in Kurdistan is an evident danger with ever increasing land and property prices. An unhealthy proportion of the public rely directly upon the government for employment and their day-to-day living, and this always risks becoming the basis of a future backlash.
While the demands by the Gorran movement were unrealistic and clearly designed to stoke anger and strong reactions from the ruling parties, any productive and healthy governance needs the right pressure socially and politically to proactively change. While the Kurdish government still enjoys strong public support, this can not be taken for granted. The main political parties realize that as much as they have a strong grounding for support, there are also plenty of those who oppose the government and could potentially cause political and social havoc.
At the end of the day, what Kurdistan needs is evolution and not a revolution. The region has made tremendous strides in a short time period but this is not excuse to stagnate, devolve and not to expand the democratic experience.
In any true democracy, it is the people that should continually pressurize the government for continual improvements. They are elected by the people to serve the people. Governments and political parties should adapt and change towards the people and common society and not the other way around.
As for the greater Middle East, the winds of change will not necessarily herald a peaceful and productive transition to a new reality. It will take much time and guidance to ensure the right kind of government and legislation takes the place of those that depart.
As we have witnessed in Iraq, democracy is not a “one size fits all” product that can be easily applied in midst of a legacy of repression.
Change will take time in the Middle East, but the current wave is a fresh breeze in the midst of mass repression and totalitarianism that has become the by-product of the region.