Spotlight on Geopolitics

When trying to forecast potential threats to Western civilisation, the late Samuel Huntington envisioned the clash with Islam as the ultimate danger. In spite of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, the danger has not materialised, on the contrary. He was right, however, about the threat posed to the stability of Islamic societies by the demographic pressure on scarce resources, which afflicts not only Maghreb, but most of the Arab world as well.

The protest movement that started a few weeks ago with the Tunisian uprising against the authoritarian rule of Ben Ali has now reached as far south as Yemen and as far north as Albania. Arab youth, most of them university students, have taken to the streets of Algeria, Egypt, and Jordan in their thousands. Sparked by the desperation induced by joblessness and ever-rising food prices, the protests are rapidly turning into revolutionary movements, aimed at changing the way the affected countries are ruled. Even in Jordan, where the royals still enjoys a large degree of support, thousands have demonstrated in support of true constitutional monarchy, as the king-appointed government is seen as insensitive and corrupt. In Algeria and Egypt, the decades-old political leadership is under threat, a development which Nobel peace prize laureate Mahomed El Baradei hopes will bring about long-overdue political renewal and democratic change. According to Sali Berisha, the Albanian premier, his own countrymen – many of whom are Muslim – have been inspired by the Tunisian uprising. Demonstrations have recently broken out against government corruption and Berisha’s largely incompetent way of running the small NATO country.

Ironically, it is the Western-generated global crisis that is at the root of it all. Until 2007, young Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians or Palestinians used to make their way to France, Spain or Italy in search of work. European countries are now forced to resist such immigration and repatriate illegals, thus unwittingly increasing the pressure autocratic Arab rulers have been under. The lack of employment opportunities at home and soaring food prices are responsible for the rest. As Tunisians have taken pains to point out, their initial revolt, sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Boazizi, was spontaneous and has not had the support of any foreign power whatsoever. This is probably one of the main reasons why it has engulfed other Arab countries in less than two weeks.

Students alone, however, cannot bring about the political changes needed to transform the Arab world’s “failed states” into functional ones. The Western powers that chose to turn a blind eye to their plight for years should now show at least some measure of sympathy and understanding and refuse to prop up the corrupt rule of dictators running affected countries. Internally, the trade unions and even moderate Islamic movements should continue to lend their support to their would-be intellectuals and refuse to be bought with temporarily cheaper food prices, or meaningless other freebies that will be retired as soon as the old order could be re-established.

The wide-ranging protests now engulfing Arab countries should be perceived as a great opportunity for political and economic renewal, and not simply as a securitary threat to corrupt rulers and their backers. In other words, if handled correctly, the protest movements could bring economic and political dividends for decades to come, despite the current instability in Maghreb and elsewhere. By siding with authoritarian regimes, on the other hand, Western leaders are now running the risk of turning the justified ire of Arabs against the West, thus fulfilling Huntington’s dire prediction. (sources: Time, The Guardian, Courrier International).

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