Unrest spreads in Middle East
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When learning about major historical events from a textbook in grade school, it is easy to place a name on turbulent time periods in the world’s history – such as the Black Plague or World War II – but at the time those events occurred, it was probably much harder to nail down a name that would describe exactly what was happening.
It has been called many things – the White Revolution, the Revolution of the Youth, the Rage Revolution, the Lotus Revolution and the 25 January Revolution – but here in American media, it is most well known as the 18 Day Revolution.
The protests in Egypt sent a clear message to the country’s president, Hosni Mubarak. Citizens are not going to take the tyranny any longer. Mubarak has given in to the people’s demands and officially resigned from his position.
While he was in power, Egypt’s government was called a “Republic.” His political party was called the National Democratic Party. On the surface, the people of Egypt would appear to be free.
However, Mubarak has autocratically controlled the country under Emergency Law since 1981. While his political party was called “democratic,” it was the only party in Egyptian politics allowed in the elections. Stacking all the candidates with their own players ensured their victory. Egypt may have appeared to be a republic, but in reality, there was only one party to choose from.
Since Mubarak’s resignation, Egypt’s military is in control of the country, for now. But the people are calling for free elections.
Could President George W. Bush’s goal of freeing Iraq and setting up a democracy in the Middle East be rubbing off on the surrounding countries? As planned?
One largely hidden piece of the puzzle may do more to influence the future of Egypt than anything else, however – the Muslim Brotherhood.
The protests in Egypt were purportedly fueled by instigation from the Muslim Brotherhood. It is an Islamic extremist group that promotes the role of Islam in government systems of the Middle East.
If free elections take place, the question is will a candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood win and establish a foothold by which the group can take over the country? Candidates from the group were previously barred from elections by Mubarak.
So, why should Americans care about the outcome of Egypt, a country halfway across the globe? For starters, the U.S. gives about $2 billion each year to Egypt for economic and military aid. As America pinches its own pennies in the economic recession, the destination of taxpayer money will become more heavily scrutinized.
Also, control of Egypt means control of the Suez Canal. Much of Middle Eastern oil is exported through the canal. Controlling oil exports could mean big trouble for the rest of the world, and cutting them off could bring a country as powerful and as oil-dependent as the U.S. to its knees.
Revolution is contagious
Egypt is not the only country in political turmoil. A wave of unrest has overtaken the Arab world.
Before the demonstrations ever started in Egypt, strikingly similar protests and government revolt began in Tunisia, where President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced to resign in January. After Egypt, the wave has since spread to Bahrain, Libya and Yemen.
In Bahrain, protesters were forced to flee Pearl Square after tanks and riot police opened fire on them. The country’s hospitals are overflowing with patients. At least seven have been killed and hundreds injured since Feb. 14. Civilians have since returned to the square and peacefully reclaimed their turf by outnumbering the police and forcing them to fall back. This was a monumental victory for demonstrators, who prayed and celebrated together upon returning to the square.
In Libya, protesters claim that 14 people were killed on Thursday and dubbed it a “Day of Rage.” Muammar Gaddafi has ruled in Libya for 41 years, but he could soon be forced out of the country in the same fashion as President Mubarak.
In Yemen, about 20,000 demonstrators filled three major roads around Sana’a University. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ruled the country for 32 years. He vows not to be shaken by protests, but he could soon be ousted, as well. In the Yemen protests, which began as peaceful demonstrations, riot police used tear gas against thousands of protesters. One demonstrator was shot and killed by police, after cars and a local government building was set on fire.
Does history repeat itself?
The revolution spreading throughout the Middle East seems eerily similar to another specific event in history.
In Iran in 1979, protesters called for an end of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s rule and choke hold on the country. Sound familiar?
However, the people in Iran thought they were setting up a democratic state – one ruled by the people – but the actual outcome was very different. Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran (after his exile) and, with the support of the people, took over the country. He set up a theocracy in Iran, in which the country was governed by Islamic law and ruled by Islamist jurors. History books call this period the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
With the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood working behind the scenes in Egypt, there is danger that the country could end up in the same state as Iran after the dust settles.
Only time will tell
The Arab world is in turmoil. The desire for freedom has found a foothold in the minds of the people, and revolution is spreading like a fire. However, the future of the Middle East is extremely uncertain.
The burning question is – is this the beginning of freedom and democracy in Egypt and other Middle Eastern nations? Or is this the beginning of a radical takeover by Islamic extremists, similar to the one that occurred in Iran?