Arab unrest threatens stability of the region, world economies
|January 29, 2011||Posted by admin under News In General, Politics||
By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette
Tunisia is one of those Arab countries that most of us in the U.S. hear little about. The most memorable thing about Tunisia for many Westerners comes from references to its cities in movies, including World War II films and the Indiana Jones movies.
But the revolution in Tunisia — now known as the Jasmine Revolution — threatens stability in a region of the world where stability is in the national interest of most of the industrialized world.
Let’s not kid ourselves: Tunisian President Ben Ali was an autocratic strongman who was on good terms with the West. He and his family lived like royalty — while the many Tunisians suffered from unemployment and underemployment. Elections were rigged, as Ben Ali was not going to tolerate losing. Human rights violations were standard operating procedure for the state’s police forces, and criticism by the media was not tolerated.
With Ben Ali in exile, the big question that remains unanswered is: What’s next?
History is littered with autocrats who fled their countries in the wake of popular uprisings. What leadership force can fill the vacuum of power left when a dictator is deposed?
Often, the power of the military helps decide who will ascend to national leadership; the backing of a major power (like the United States), is a big plus.
But the U.S. — and the Western world — has much at stake if the unrest in Tunisia spreads as it appears to have spread to Egypt. The reason is oil; instability in the Arab world threatens the world’s supply of energy. At the very least, commodity speculators gamble that the spreading instability will probably make Arab oil more expensive — increases that will quickly trickle down to higher prices at the gas pump.
Oil is one of the fuels that powers the industrialized Western world. And our own U.S. economic recovery depends on the availability of (relatively) inexpensive supplies of oil. Should the Jasmine Revolution spread to other Arab countries, the results won’t be pretty. Egypt is already on the brink of the overthrow of President Mubarak. The military forces have reportedly been friendly and supportive of the protesters. His family is reported to have arrived in London; can he be far behind?
What sort of government will replace these autocrats? Is it reasonable to expect free, democratic elections in countries where a corrupt political culture has been the norm for decades? Or will a new strongman rise to the top with the support of the military and its allies? And will this new leader wish to be a friend or foe of the Western democracies?
The protesters in Tunisia and Egypt are calling for democratic reforms in their governments; let’s hope that the new governments they select are a departure from the autocracy of the past and a step toward the freedoms that they seek.