Saturday, 15 January 2011

A real tea party

It’s both chilling and inspiring to see people risk their lives to rise up en masse against tyranny as is occurring now in Tunisia, the first successful revolution in the Middle East in 30 years (since the Iranians threw out the shah in 1979). We see the classic hallmarks: popular mobilization, a split in the army and/or police, and a highly fluid and dangerous interim period (now) in which no one is really in control. It was not a coup d’état or a military assault on the centers of power (a la Fidel), in which one security apparatus replaces another. Instead, there is a scramble for power, and the disenfranchised masses of the population can briefly influence who wins. Should be fascinating, and let’s hope for a positive outcome.

While the usual experts in the foreign policy apparatus here quack on about how unimportant Tunisia is in the big geopolitical game, they also recognize that the revolutionary example could be contagious. All eyes are now on Egypt given that the conditions there are so similar: an entrenched, unresponsive, repressive, nepotistic and corrupt ruling elite and an educated and frustrated middle class whose sons and daughters have no future.

In that setting all it takes is the right economic spark affecting the cost of living to set things ablaze. Ergo: expect the price of bread to remain stable in Cairo for a few months. Mubarak also had been grooming his son to take over the dynasty, and that little plan may have to be postponed at least until the dust settles across the desert.

The coverage of the Tunisian revolution—given that it is a country that plays no major role in U.S. maneuvering for influence—has been spotty to non-existent. Now that the head of state has been run out of Tunis on a rail, the reports are picking up, all couched in terms of how ‘moderate’ the outgoing dictator was and how well he cooperated with American goals in the anti-terrorist campaigns. All that’s lacking are some mournful laments about how we can’t send people over there to be tortured any more, rats!

We can also count on future reporting to focus on who among the rivals is most pro-Western, rather than which one might be focused principally on the interests of the Tunisian people.

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