18/02/2011

Fear switches sides

While the Egyptian people celebrates the departure of Mubarak, the winds of revolt and freedom have spread to three new countries in the Middle East. Firstly Yemen,  then Libya and Bahrain. After the first squalls that swept unexpectedly  Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, presidents Gaddafi, Saleh and King Al-Khalifa now find themselves caught in the storm.
Three countries, each with their peculiarities, have a common desire for change for more freedom, dignity and work while injustice, nepotism, arbitrariness, corruption, lack of rights and unemployment are common characteristics.
Gas and oil revenues, which seemed to have fallen asleep the Libyan people under the yoke of Qaddafi since 41 years, did not prevent the turmoil from Egypt and Tunisia to spread across the country. The protests, triggered in Benghazi as early as Tuesday after the arrest of a human rights lawyer, have spread to other cities. After promising a doubling of salaries of civil servants and liberate hundreds of Islamic militants, the regime decided to suppress the protests by force. Since then, at least twenty people have been killed.
In Bahrain, a small Gulf monarchy those main resource is oil, the Shiite majority feels discriminated against for access to public job and social services. In addition, the Shiite population is concerned about the government policy that offers Sunnis foreigners, often Baluch, Jordanians and Iraqis, the Bahraini nationality and employment in the intelligence services and law enforcement. According to the Shiites, this policy aims to supplant them demographically. Sunni rulers have always been deaf to Shiites demands and have decided to repress the demonstrations harshly. Several demonstrators have already died.
In Yemen, protesters demanding the departure of President Sadeh, serving 32 years (first as president of North-Yemen and then as Yemeni President) in this country where the weak government is facing for years an armed rebellion. Again, severe repression followed the vague promises of reform.
Promises of these rulers – wage increase, lower prices for basic commodities, promise of no re-election… – will not change much more, and they are condemned to leave or to stay in the blood and terror. It seems that, with the current support of armed and security forces, they have chosen – for now – the second option.
The violent reaction of these despots, wallowing too long in their sinecures, shows how much they are disconnected from their communities and have therefore lost all legitimacy. In denying for so long aspirations of  a people becoming more educated and connected to the rest of the world, they only serve their interests and those of their clans. As they use violence against protesters now in order to maintain is the latest proof of their negligence and their distress. It seems that fear, which was the base of their regime, has now switched sides. Other potentates of the region can now shake.
The United States and the European Union must now distance themselves immediately and explicitly with these dictators and express their support for revolted and abused peoples, oil or not.
Geoffroy d’Aspremont