Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Egypt's Eruptions Show Signs of Spreading

President Saleh of Yemen certainly gets it, although possibly too late. He has announced he will not be seeking re-election in 2013, ahead of Yemen's own planned 'day of rage' on Thursday. It may still not be enough, as the extraordinary 'people action' which started in Tunisia continues its rampage across the Arab world. There are reminders here of the fall of communism in 1989, which erupted so unexpectedly and then gathered steam across all of the eastern European countries. The danger in the current instance, however, lies in what on earth will replace the tottering regimes. The dictatorships of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen sit atop a simmering cauldron of poverty and unrest which is easily exploited by the well organised Islamic fundamentalist groups waiting to seize their chance. The protests in Egypt, and the putative ones in Yemen, seem to be led by liberal minded middle class and young citizens who would have little truck with the conservative islamicists, but unlike their religious counterparts the protestors are not well organised politically. The spectre of Iran hovers above the unrest, and although there are significant differences, including the fact that these protests have not been spun from the sort of religious agitators who took the lead against the Shah in 1979, there can hardly be any western analysts who aren't currently shuddering at the prospect of a post-Mubarak Egypt, or a post-Saleh Yemen. Democracy, after all, is fine, except when it delivers the wrong verdict.

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