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PV Vivekanand: A bleak picture of Arab revolts
January 17, 2012
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As the Tunisians are celebrating the first anniversary of their revolt that toppled a 30-year autocratic regime and set off the so-called Arab Spring, it is a sad state of affairs today in other Arab countries where people took inspiration from the successful Tunisian revolt.

In Egypt, where 18 days of determined “people’s power” rebellion ended the three-decade rule of Hosni Mubarak, pro-democracy activists are frustrated and feel that they got nothing in return for their sacrifices. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took control of the country when Mubarak stepped down on Feb.10, is showing every sign of a determination not to let go of its absolute power despite having promised to respect democracy and hand over authority to an elected civilian government and return to the barracks.

There is a surrealistic air to developments in Egypt, including the parliamentary elections being held under the military reign and which have so far produced Islamists as the clear winners. The ruling generals have said that they would be the masters of drafting the post-revolt constitution – meaning that they would seek to ensure their privileged status guaranteed through the constitution. And they oppose the idea of a parliamentary government and insist on a cabinet they nominate regardless of the Islamist victory in the elections.

Egypt’s young activists – those who took to the streets and made their voice heard around the world from Cairo’s Tahrir Square – were sidelined in the elections. They feel that they need to stage a second revolution, but they are deprived of support from the powerful Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists, who, between them garnered more than 65 per cent of the vote in the parliamentary elections. Both groups, the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brotherhood which won nearly 48 per cent of the votes and the Al Nur party with 27 per cent, do not want to upset their chances of working out a deal with the military and hence their abstinence from street protests.

The Muslim Brotherhood is said to be in contact with the military over the issue.

In Libya, where the 42-year reign of Muammar Qadhafi was brought to a bloody end in October last year when the strongman was captured and killed, some of those who brought about the “regime change” cannot see eye-to-eye on many issues. They are hanging on to their weapons and opting to settle their differences through fighting in the streets.

Militiamen from the scores of “brigades” representing the various regions of the vast country are refusing to hand over their weapons and control of territory, and the new rulers, the National Transition Council (NTC), do not have the kind of gun power that they need to enforce law and order. It will take several months for them to absorb tens of thousands of the militiamen into a central security force, including police and military.

The dozens of groups which hold sway in different parts of Libya today do not have a common ideology and they would seek to constitutionalise their interests, meaning that the post-rebellion charter could end up in a mess if not guided properly.

Oil-rich Libya is making an economic recovery, but there is no estimate of how much funds the country needs to rebuild itself. This is a minefield for the NTC-appointed government in view of the decades-old animosity among the key regions of the country and their grievances of being sidelined for development by the Qadhafi regime.

In Syria, the minority Alawite community continues to wage a bloody crackdown against not only pro-democracy activists but anyone who raises his or her voice against the regime. There could not be an early end to the Syrian crisis, which the Arab League has warned could turn into an open civil war.

The rebellion in Syria is more complicated than any other Arab Spring revolt because all its neighbours and Arab countries as well as the United States and Iran have vested interests in the country. Hence the Arab League effort to somehow contain the situation under a compromise formula that would see Syrian opposition groups gaining an entry into the corridors of power. But the Syrian groups do not want to accept any plan that would couple them with the present regime. The reason is clear: they do not trust the regime as far as they could throw it.

In the meantime, the regime does not seem to be troubled with any thought of the commitment it made to the Arab League. It is continuing to put up a bitter battle aimed at physically eliminating not only all those who oppose it but also who are likely to do so in the future.  It insists that there is no popular revolt in the country and that “terrorist groups and armed thugs” are behind the crisis there.

It is one thing for Damascus to put up such an argument but a totally different issue when it insists that others accept it.

It is difficult to believe that the Syrian regime has not read the writing on the wall predicting its inevitable collapse and still retain hopes of remaining in power. As such, the short-term outlook for Syria is continued strife and the death of many more.

In Yemen, where President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been fighting a revolt since early last year, things look as bleak despite Saleh signing a Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC)-mediated agreement calling for a transition of power before Feb.20. The Yemenis will then vote for a new president, with the sole candidate being his deputy, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is expected to lead the country to a transition to democracy.

Saleh is somehow seeking to get out of the GCC agreement or at least retain absolute power by pulling strings from behind the scenes even after formally stepping down (in the event that it becomes inevitable). His challengers have ruled that out and reject an amnesty deal for him and his cronies for all crimes committed during his 33-year reign.

As in the case of Assad, the Yemeni leader seems to be convinced that he could find a way out without having to give up power. He also seems to be counting on the Al Qaeda insurgency going on in the south to keep the US on tenterhooks and continue to consider him as an ally. Saleh’s game-plan is to keep Washington convinced that Al Qaeda could take over Yemen in the event of his departure from power.

In the meantime, the Yemeni economy is all but collapsed and the daily suffering of the people has grown. The revolt against Saleh has paralysed many segments of business and industry, leading to loss of jobs and a sharp increase in the already high unemployment rate.

The US and its allies fear that Islamists will gain power in post-revolt elections and it is playing its own diplomatic game, weighing opportunities but taking its own time before accepting the inevitability of having to deal with Islamist regimes. And that US approach makes it even worse.

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