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Tsunami In The Arab world

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By Osama Al Sharif

From Libya to Yemen and from Morocco to Bahrain, the tsunami effect of the Tunisian revolution is shaking the Arab world.

It is difficult to believe that in less than three months people succeeded in unseating the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt, and are close to ending the 42-year-old reign of one of the world’s most despotic rulers in Libya. The pace of change is breathtaking and the enormity of the event difficult to fathom.

But the Arab world is waking up to a new dawn — of people power, democracy and political reforms. It is difficult to make predictions about the future; of how these revolutions will impact the region and the world. And if Tunisia and Egypt were largely peaceful revolts, Libya is the exception. The brutality of the regime in clamping down on protesters is appalling. Hundreds if not thousands of lives have been lost. Libya is on the verge of collapse as a country.

If there are common denominators between Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, they are by now well known. Tyranny is one and so are social and economic injustices. These are the root causes of despair and anger. They can be traced in Yemen, Sudan, Syria and Morocco. Bahrain is slightly different and therefore the outcome of the recent protests could vary as well. In Yemen and Bahrain there are calls for dialogue between the leaderships and the opposition. Eventually such dialogue may end, or postpone, the crisis.

What is happening to the Arab world? Pundits and leaders will seek to find answers. Those who fail to read the writing on the wall may pay a heavy price. In Jordan King Abdallah is calling for quick and genuine reforms. The country is facing tough economic challenges and political reforms have also become a priority. No one is talking about regime-change there, but pressure is mounting on the government to fight corruption and provide opportunities to the country’s young, especially in impoverished areas.

Bahrain too is hoping to launch political reforms that will meet the demands of its citizens, especially those claiming to suffer from sectarian discrimination. It is a sensitive issue for the GCC countries because of fears that foreign parties, particularly Iran, may get involved. The United States has called on King Hamad to address his people’s grievances and his crown prince has committed to a serious dialogue with the opposition.

Yemen is a difficult case because of a number of factors. The country is facing economic problems, but is also threatened by separatists in the south, the Houthi revolt in the north and by Al-Qaeda terrorist cells. The regime of President Ali Abdallah Saleh has backed down on a number of controversial issues. He has relented to pressure to allow demonstrators to protest peacefully, and has called on the opposition to engage in a dialogue. But he had vowed that he will not be forced out of office and that change should only come through the ballot box.

Algeria and Morocco will witness fresh protests in the coming days and weeks. The former has resorted to riot police to prevent demonstrators from rallying in the capital and elsewhere. Poverty and unemployment plague the two North African countries. In Algeria, an oil and gas producing country, there are accusations of official corruption, despotism and discrimination. Many young Algerians take to illegal immigration to Europe in order to find a better life. Morocco, where political parties are active, the country’s young complain of corruption and are calling for major political reforms.

The Internet has raised public awareness and allowed young people to communicate and express their concerns. This has happened in Tunisia and Egypt and is happening now in Yemen and Bahrain and in Algeria and Morocco. Again the challenge for governments is to understand that their citizens need to become involved in decision-making. They have a new appreciation for democratic values. They are fighting for their rights to work and have a decent life.

What will happen next depends very much on governments and leaderships. We have seen how Libyans revolted against a ruthless and megalomaniac regime that did not hesitate to use mercenaries and heavy artillery against its own citizens. After Libya no regime can claim to be immune or different.

The sad thing about all this is that in most cases regimes had ignored previous calls to adopt reforms. Even today there are countries that are in desperate need of democratization and pluralism, but continue to bury their heads in the sand. Change has already arrived in the Arab world, and while the region looks unstable and unpredictable today, the future looks bright as Egypt and Tunisia provide a new example of what a modern Arab state should look like.

Osama Al Sharif is a veteran journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

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Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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