Angry demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia and Lebanon (January 25) cast a spotlight on grievances throughout the Arab world that are often aired but rarely dealt with. For the first time in generations, dissidence is gathering momentum and many leaders seem rattled.
Egypt's Interior Minister urged the country's intellectuals to impart their wisdom on the “young people” that he said were clearly behind the protest movement. The elders have shown no intention of stepping in. They know the Tunisian revolt was driven largely by a disaffected middle class, not by the rage of a dispossessed youth. They know also that in Egypt, the ball is very much in the government's court.
In Syria, Jordan and Lebanon
Across the region, regimes are in the unusual position of having to prove their worth to people they have ruled over almost unchecked for decades. Two days after the Tunisian revolt, the Syrian government announced a social aid fund that would pay around $300m to the country's low earners and unemployed.
The scheme, talked about for many years, was launched by presidential decree and accompanied by a tripling of a heating fuel subsidy for Syrian families, from $12-$35 per month. The sudden burst of generosity has not been lost even on government-controlled media in Damascus, which described the timing as “a coincidence.”
Jordan's rulers have held a series of urgent meetings to discuss the implications of the Tunisian revolt, but have yet to announce any economic measures to placate the population. “They are on a nervous watching brief,” said a Jordanian official. “They know that if Tunisia spreads, there are a few steps before it gets to here.” In Lebanon, a “day of rage” has been called today by supporters of the ousted Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who faces an impossible task of forming a new government after his fragile coalition was abandoned earlier this month by the opposition bloc. Hariri won an ostensibly democratic election 18 months ago but has been plagued ever since by power plays and regional wrangling that has left the country and its institutions in turmoil.
His largely Sunni Muslim supporters claim their democratic will has been subverted by a creeping revolution launched three years ago by the Syrian and Iranian-backed Hezbollah opposition. Their anger has so far been contained to the country's Sunni strongholds, but it contains a counter-revolutionary zeal prompting observers to fear that today's civil disobedience could be the start of something far worse.
All of today's protests — both on the streets and in cyberspace — share a broad common theme: that people in this part of the world have been denied a democratic voice for too long. They also share a realisation that nepotism in government, scelrosis of institutions and lack of accountability need not be a given.— © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011
The ball is in the governments' court as people demand the democratic voice they have been denied for too long.