We are witnessing the passing of the old order in the Arab world. A change of this magnitude has not occurred since the fall of the Berlin wall. And whatever the outcome may be, the region will never be the same.
What started as a domestic issue in Tunisia has now spread to Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, and Bahrain. And that is a very curious thing. That a revolution in this ordinarily quiet North African nation could mean the beginning of the end for many governments across the Middle East.
In order to get a better understanding of the situation, I contacted Skander Mzali, a Boeing engineer whose family emigrated from Tunisia to the United States in 1990.
Part of the reason they made the decision to move in the first place is closely related to the reasons behind the frustrations that lead to Tunisia’s current situation: government corruption, as well as economic and political repression.
In reference to Tunisia specifically, Mzali was astounded how a “seemingly isolated event in Tunisia could catalyze into such as huge worldwide phenomenon.”
As for the reasons behind the protests, he believes that “in the Arab world, perception is reality. There’s a huge amount of anger and resentment over corruption that has been wrangling for years and years over President Ben Ali and his family.”
When asked of his prediction for the region as a whole, he stated, “I am just as mystified as everyone else. But I really and sincerely hope that some form of democracy can develop, though I have a hard time seeing the region stabilizing enough for that to happen. One thing is for certain, there’s going to be a huge power vacuum.”
Over the weekend there were hopes by some that Syria would follow suit and begin protests of their own.
A Facebook group titled “day of rage” was created in order to get anti-government sentiment stirring in a country currently stifled by corruption and stringent regulations. Although Facebook is officially banned, many use proxy servers to access the popular social media site.
George Jarjour, an immigrant from Syria, has been living in the United States for 22 years a long with his family. Part of the reason he believes Syrians didn’t get out and protest was because “Syrians understand how rare stability is, especially in that part of the world.” Being a Christian, Jarjour is also concerned over what an alternative government could look like in comparison to what is has now, which is relatively secular. “In Syria today there is minimal persecution of Christians. If there were to be a revolution, it is likely that Syria would become an Islamist state, which would not be good for the Christian minority.” Jarjour also doesn’t believe the region is ready for democracy. “Democracy is a great thing, but it is incredibly difficult to maintain. The Arab world is definitely not ready.”
That brings us to the current point of focus for the world today, Egypt. There are real and serious reasons to be apprehensive over the current protests. One being that the resulting government could very possibly be worse than the one that came before it.
We must not forget history, most notably the Iranian revolution of 1979. We all hope that the democracy will emerge from the ashes, but that is an unlikely outcome.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which is currently the most potent organization on the Egyptian political stage, commands around 30 percent of the vote, which is no small number.
Although many analysts in the Western media have claimed that their aims are peaceful, there is evidence to the contrary. Muhammad Ghannem, a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt told Al-Alam, an Arabic-language Iranian news network, that “the people should be prepared for war against Israel.”
For a group that claims non-violence, that is quite the statement, and may be why the Israeli government is highly concerned over a possible Islamist takeover.
Even if the Muslim Brotherhood were to remain true to their non-violent stance, the resulting government would be a theocratic regime.
The central aspect of their goals is the impose Sharia law, which translates to the treatment of women as chattel, persecution of minorities, and total elimination of basic human rights such as the right to speech, assembly, and religion.
Mubarak may have been a terrible dictator to live under, but surely Egypt is a preferable place to live than Iran or Saudi Arabia.
What should, then, be the role of the United States be?
We must guarantee that the democratic movement has a chance to flourish in Egypt with an orderly transition, and not allow the revolution to dissolve into an Islamist state, which would look like an Iran on steroids.