U.S. special emissary to Egypt, Frank Wisner announced after his high level talks in Cairo “Mubarak’s role remains extremely critical in the days ahead.” When Vice President Omar Suleiman refused to revoke the 30-year old emergency law, the U.S. unbelievably supported him.
The waves of discontent are sweeping through the Arab world rattling the old guards in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen and the decades-old autocratic system in the Arab world is feeling tremors this time. The relentless youth, frustrated by the growing unemployment, widespread corruption and an uncontainable political repression of the ruling elite, have finally come out in the streets to change their political and economic system. Status-quo is not on the list; they want a profound change of system this time.
What this transition means for the United States that has been supporting the ruling elite in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Lebanon, the Gulf States and other Muslim countries in the region for too long? Would America avail the opportunity this time to win the Arab population who have lost trust after President Bush’s ill-conceived adventures in the region? It all depends on the policies of the Obama administration in the near future.
The U.S. special emissary to Egypt, Frank Wisner announced after his high level talks in Cairo on the current uprising “President Mubarak’s role remains extremely critical in the days ahead.” When Vice President Omar Suleiman refused to revoke the 30-year old emergency law in Egypt saying the country is not ready for democracy yet, the U.S. unbelievably supported him.
As it looks, America has been giving mixed and contradictory signals to the current youth movement in Egypt asking President Hosni Mubarak not to use force while trying to support him at the same time. More recently, the Obama administration has been insisting on giving more time to provide a smooth transition to a free and transparent election in the country. While sympathizing with the youth movement it is not asking Mubarak to relieve power and leave it to Omar Suleiman to form an interim government and have election. Obviously, the U.S. administration is trying to buy more time and break the current momentum of protests.
At best, these youth movements are democratic, technologically motivated and secular. The current waves of change in the region should not be viewed as social chaos or civil unrest; it should be seen as a new wave of democratic reforms and economic emancipation in these societies. Perhaps, the U.S. is more worried about the recurrence of the Palestinian elections where Hamas won the majority votes but it was not allowed to form government. However, conservatives do not enjoy popularity in Egypt and on the contrary not supporting the current secular movement might lead to strengthening conservative elements in Egypt.
Youth make a predominant proportion of the region’s population which is growing faster than any other age group. As a UNDP report elaborated “Never before have there been so many young people in comparison to other age groups. The age group 10 to 24 now comprises approximately one-third of the total population of the region; this proportion is 36 percent in Syria and 38 percent in Kuwait.”
These disenfranchised groups in Arab societies have been largely ignored for a long time and their leaders have failed to meet political expectations of their citizens, especially the youth, for genuine political participation, liberty, justice and the rule of law. Public participation in the democratic process has been impeded by the ruling regimes in most of these countries. Political participation means freedom to join political parties, creating civil societies and giving voting rights to both men and women and these rights have been widely discouraged through governmental manipulation in most Muslim countries.
In the long term, it would be an excellent opportunity for the U.S. to gain popularity of the largest segment of the population in a region of over 300 million people in Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Adult literacy in the region is only 66 percent as compared to 77 percent for developing nations and 82 percent worldwide. Only two-third of the population in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is literate, which is on a declining trend excluding Kuwait and the Palestinian Territories that have 90 percent literacy. The widening gender gap in higher education also poses a huge problem in the region. While more than half of the female population in the region is illiterate, the Arab world has the lowest participation of women in the labor force in the world, 25 percent. Although these youth groups are severely disadvantaged when it comes to literacy and jobs, they are well trained in using the magical tools of modern-day world-wide-web networks. Amazingly, information and communication technologies (ICT) have been on their side and they have extensively used social media, face book, twitter, along with the modern channels of mass media and cell phones in organizing protest rallies in Tunisia and Egypt. In retaliation, this also prompted dictatorial regimes to block down cell phone connections, websites and the emailing networks.
America has several reasons to support democracy in the MENA region. A new era of freedom and democracy in the region will not only open new doors of modern-day education to the Arab youth, it will also open new avenues for American institutions of education and high-tech business in the region.
(From Viewpoint Online)
- Middle East celebrates Mubarak’s fall (independent.co.uk)
- The promise of real democracy in Egypt (salon.com)
- The Fall of the House of Mubarak (redstate.com)
- Israeli officials: Mubarak wants honorable exit (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Mubarak leaves Cairo for Sinai as protests spread (independent.co.uk)