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Monday, 6 February 2012

The "Arab Spring" ...

So hailed and welcomed by liberal factions in the West seems to have bogged down in some theaters and taken a decidedly "unliberal" turn in others. As the Monk feared some months ago when the media was full of talking heads from the Liberal/Left burbling happily about "popular uprisings" spelling "a new wave of freedom and the spread of human rights" in North Africa and other Arab nations, not many seem to have elected or created "liberal" regimes. There may be new "freedom" and "democracy" but the elections in Tunisia clearly showed that the theocratic conservatives are far better organised and far more efficient at mobilising their vote.

In Egypt the protests continue, the military don't intend to give up their power easily, that much is clear. The army in Egypt owns a large proportion of the tourist resorts and operations. They are certainly not going to surrender their grip on the wealth creating organs that sustain them, nor on the ability it gives them to control the economy.  Who would replace them anyway, there are competing factions for the popular vote and all of them must win at least some support from the military if they have any hope of being allowed to continue. Again, the Fundamentalist Muslim movements are far better organised and prepared to mobilise their "ballot fodder" than anyone else. In Syria, Russia and China have a lot to lose if the Assad regime is overthrown, so the civil war continues, though, as far as I can see, the media seem to continue to play it down and present it as "rioting" and "demonstrations." Once again, it is the fundamentalists who seem to be in control.

There are those who blame Israel for this swing to the extreme, but I don't think this is the whole picture. It is, as ever, a very complex problem and there are certainly indications that Iran's current leadership may have a hand in some of it. There are enormous tensions across the Muslim world, tensions which can easily explode. On the one hand you have those who, with education, travel in the rest of the world and a certain level of luxury in their lives, want to see a more relaxed and liberated lifestyle in their homelands. Then there are the others, sadly supported by the majority who have been raised on a diet of fear of allowing any deviation from the strict application of the Sharia, who wish to impose even more draconian rule in the name of God.

Caught in the middle are the vast majority who want nothing more than a safe place for their children to grow up, good schooling, health care, decent homes, a small car and the ability to buy the few small luxuries they can afford. As in the west, there are the mega-rich, those who are doing very nicely, those who would like a bit more and a majority have very little, would like a bit more of, and are reasonably content with their lifestyles. It would be easy to blame the religion, but again, it isn't that simple. Think of what life must have been like under Cromwell and his Puritans and Presbyters. Now you have some idea of what it is like to be an ordinary person in one of the lands currently swinging between autocratic rule and theocratic rule ...

Sadly, I suspect that this situation has a long way to go before it is finally settled. For one thing, it is the people standing behind the ruler you have to watch. Often the "Ruler" is little more than a figurehead for the wealthy and powerful people in the shadow of the "throne." That is almost certainly the case with Assad and with Ahmedinejad. When they are no longer useful to the wealthy class who have their hands on the real instruments of power and wealth - they will go. Who will replace them remains to be seen, but, as with the story of the man who had a demon cast out by Christ, the vacuum was refilled by worse.

That, sadly, is what I expect to see when Assad finally goes. As for Iran; I don't really know. The Ayatollahs are well entrenched and the Revolutionary Guard answers directly to them, so do the "Secret" Religious Police. The supreme irony there is that Ayatollah Khomeni himself warned against the religious leaders being involved in government. Sadly, as with any power structure, the allure of power was and remains, too great.

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