First Tunisia, now Egypt, will the Arab world finally see democracy? It’s perhaps too early to predict a true democracy in these countries. However what is evident is that the people have finally found their voice and it’s now loud enough to not just to penetrate the thick walls of the Presidential mansions but also shake its foundations.
We have heard every politician talk about change yet once in power the status quo continues. But now, people have decided to take power in their hands and bring about the change for real. And millions of people are taking to the streets in largely peaceful demonstrations to raise their voice for the basic economic security– growth, employment, education, control on inflation and affordable food. But they have now realized that the only way to get these would be to speak from some sort of political platform – and the idea of democracy looks perfect. Hence the demand for political reforms.
After the revolution, Tunisia's President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled his country and it gave people elsewhere a hope. Now Egypt’s president Hoshi Mubarak has promised to step down at the end of term in September. This made the hope stronger.
The protesters in Egypt are not too happy to wait and believe they may be able to force Mubarak to leave now. While clashes continue on the streets of Cairo, the world sits watching transfixed. Everyone knows the Arab world would never be the same again.
Meanwhile fearing a similar revolution both Jordan and Yemen took pre-emptive measures to stop the initial protests from turning into a mass revolution.
Jordan: ‘Increase popular participation in the decision-making’
On February 1, King Abdullah of Jordan dismissed his cabinet and appointed a new prime minister "to take practical, quick and tangible steps to launch true political reforms, enhance Jordan's democratic drive and ensure safe and decent living for all Jordanians".
The government recently announced a £78m ($125m) package to reduce prices, as well as measures to boost salaries, in an attempt to ease the protests. However the opposition, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), said it did not welcome PM Marouf Bakhit appointment. However, there still seems to be respect in the opposition for King Abdullah.
The Palace reciprocated this sentiment by promising more people’s participation in decision making. “Reform was a "necessity to provide a better life for our people, but we won't be able to attain that without real political reforms, which must increase popular participation in the decision-making", the statement from the palace.
Yemen: ‘No extension, no inheritance, no resetting the clock’
Unlike Jordon, people in Yemen strongly want the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 32 years. Fearing backlash, Saleh on February 2, announced that he would neither seek another term nor hand over his seat to his son. With a bold statement, "No extension, no inheritance, no resetting the clock," Saleh hoped to disperse his protesters but they went ahead with their so called 'day of rage' which was very peaceful compared to clashes in Egypt.Like Jordon’s king, Saleh too came up with an economic package that he hoped would calm his protesters. He put a control on basic commodity prices and cut income tax in half. To ensure loyalty from the security forces and his men, Saleh doubled the salaries of state employee and armed forces personnel. However, it hasn’t been enough to suppress the agitated sentiments of his people.
Today Sana'a sees some of the biggest anti-government protests against Saleh (even though yesterday he asked for a freeze on all planned protests). Other cities in Yemen too joined in the protests.
In step – Algeria, Libya and Morocco
Governments of Algeria, Libya and Morocco can feel the tremors of the revolution and are strengthening their stand by offering economic concessions.
In Algeria, although public demonstrations are banned in the capital Algiers, following Tunisia, there were public protests in many parts of Algeria including the capital. Several opposition groups in Algeria have called for mass protests in the Algiers on Saturday February 12. On the agenda apart from lifting the emergency is the end to the regime of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and bringing political and economic reforms. Algeria has seen one of the worst civil wars in the world and the public are wary of a repetition, yet the growing momentum in the region is helping the mobilization of people to demand change.
Morocco, like Tunisia, saw the Royal family ‘exposed’ by Wikileaks. King Mohammed VI inner circle were embroiled in allegations of increased corruption. However, Morocco has so far managed to keep protests under control.
A quick announcement last week by the authorities that they would maintain subsidies on basic necessities like flour, sugar, cooking oil and butane gas to stop costs rising in line with world prices was an attempt to nip any uprising in the bud. However opposition to the Royal family is slowly mobilizing.
Libya has seen one of the most autocratic rulers for over four decades Col Muamman Gaddafi emphatically supported Tunisia’s Ben Ali. One of the strictest countries to tolerate any kind of protests, Libya has in recent days seen some unrest in Benghazi in the east. The government quickly took pre-emptive steps and announced increased spending on public housing to discourage people from protesting.
However, a website (now banned by the government) began promoting protests on February 17, anniversary of previous ‘intifada’.
Syria takes the revolution on Face book
The Baath party has been in power in Syria since it passed a 1963 emergency law banning all opposition groups. President Bashar al-Assad came to power in 2000 after the death of his father Hafez. Although his tough stance against Israel has earned him popularity; the growing economic disparity and rising poverty coupled with unemployment and corruption in the country has turned the people against the government.
While the government claims Syria is immune to an uprising, Syrian activists are calling for ‘a day of rage’ on Friday after prayers on Face book which is officially banned in Syria. Another Face book group has called for a peaceful '2011 Syrian revolution' to end Syria's 'monocracy, corruption and tyranny.'
The next few days will be crucial and could create history.