Feb 14, 2011

As Egypt winds down, will there be another?

The Egyptian revolution appears to be winding down after a handoff of power from the old regime of Hosni Mubarak to the military, which has sworn to be the defender of reform and democracy in Egypt. Most of the protesters have left public areas like Tahrir square and seem to be heeding the army's calls to return to their workplaces and ordinary lives.

The masses' work in the Egyptian revolution seems to be over. So what now?

Does the thirst for democracy and the popular will to make it happen go elsewhere? At a quick glance around the region, there are many places where the people desire reform. There are also leaders in the Middle East scrambling to respond to the successful popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia in order to prevent a similar problem in their own lands.

In Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, president for 30 years, has declared that he will not run for another term in the face of potent popular protests. In my opinion, it is here that another successful pro-democratic revolt is most likely. The regime is not a strong one but faces strong domestic opposition. The economic problems in Egypt and Tunisia are echoed in Yemen, as is the status of the regime as a deeply corrupt, dictatorial US ally.

In Bahrain, another key US ally led by the Khalifa family for almost 200 years, protests call for government reforms in a "Day of Rage" echoing the Egyptian revolution. It is important to remember that the royal family is Sunni Muslim while the majority of the population is Shia. If the Khalifa family falls from power there is an increased chance that Bahrain will come under the sphere of influence of Iran.

In Palestine, President Mahmoud Abbas has accepted the resignation of the cabinet of the Palestinian Authority and has called for a new government to be formed, apparently in response to the calls for reform resulting from the Egyptian revolution.

In Tehran protesters battle with police as the 2009 Green Movement seems to have found renewed energy in the wake of Mubarak's fall. Iran resembles Egypt politically in that it has a token-democratic republic that is actually trumped by power consolidated in the hands of a few. In Egypt's case that was the Mubarak regime and his supporters, in Iran that is a council of elite clergy that have the unspoken influence to counter the Grand Ayatollah. In both cases the people see past the sham-governments and direct their grievances towards the real rulers of their countries.

Lebanon formed a new government earlier this year after officials associated with Hezbollah resigned, forcing out long-serving Saad Hariri and leading to the ascension of Najib Mikati to the post. Hariri's career appears to be far from over and he is finding new strength as an opposition leader.

In Jordan and Syria both the governments have called for reforms ahead of potential mass demonstrations and movements. Both regimes are at odds with their population, with King Abdullah in Jordan only loosely related to his own people and President Bashir al-Assad in Syria divided from most of his people by religion, wealth and a burdensome security profile.

It is unclear whether any further change will come to the Middle East, just as it is unclear whether Egypt's military will actually give up power to a new democratically elected government when the time comes this September, or try to reserve power for themselves. One thing is clear, the dictatorships that the United States has traditionally supported in the Middle East are having existential crises, and the future of the region is for once firmly in the hands of the people there.

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