Wednesday, February 23, 2011

From Jasmine Revolt To Armageddon

Inside the dank of dictatorships, authoritarian regimes and monarchs that have spun class miseries by a serial lark of severe unemployment and high food prices in an oil-rich region, a spreading waft of refined jasmine has inspired the world into believing a new culture will settle over the world.

What began with the self-immolation of an educated unemployed youth in Tunisia on 17 Dec. 2010 has spread across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), taking in Iran and the Ivory Coast as well.

President Zine El Abidin Ben Ali of Tunisia lost his foothold and slipped away to Saudi Arabia, a fallen star that was soon to be followed by Egypt’s long time president, Hosni Mubarak, said to have amassed a fortune estimated to be between 40 and 70 billion USD.

Today, after the fragrance has floated into Libya, the Jasmine Revolution, as it has been called because members of the Tunisian chapter had worn the flower behind their ears, has reached a crest that is likely to become a turning point.

In Libya it is civil war. From European reports it is clearly seen the “protesters” were armed. More than one third of those killed in the first several days were policemen, precisely 111 from about 300 dead as this is written.

Someone has apparently played out President Obama, now hard-pressed to intervene in Libya.

Muammar Ghadafi, the Arab revolutionary of a unique plumage, now under pressure inside that regional stress that is read as the making of the New Middle East and Greater Israel, has vowed to die as a martyr rather than slip out of the dank like a cur.

It may be naïve to say the Jasmine Revolution need not be about the New Middle East or Greater Israel. But it is a fact that the street uprisings are primarily about gross unemployment, averaging nearly 20 percent in the region and food prices that have gone out of reach for a lot of literate and lower-middle class families. Egyptian workers were also involved in the Libyan protests.

Still it settles the matter neatly as the making of an underclass from people who are often highly educated against a backdrop of heaven-reaching illiteracy that may be 40 percent of the adult population, in Egypt.

It is, in short, serious inequity, the power sustained by the police state, like it was under Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran.

In Iran, where the unexpected turn of events has been said to be expected, street-showings of an assortment of citizens demanding basic freedoms and rights were quickly squashed.

But for whatever niceties Iran have stood for in the eyes of the religious, the Islamic Republic cannot escape global scrutiny for the incarceration of Jafar Panahi.

Jafar Panahi, 50, is the film-maker who drew on celluloid the tongue-in-cheek, Offside, which has been widely publicized.

Panahi made a movie showing a group of Iranian women who dressed as men to gain entry into a stadium to see a football match featuring their favorite team.

The good man was sentenced to six years in jail for that and banned from film-making for 20 years, a senseless reaction of paranoia over what is clearly a simple protest against cultural constraints stemming from patriarchal ridicule of simple freedoms for women, and against the social critics.

This is the difficulty about religion, and especially about Islam. It has little tolerance for the social critics and it is often a killer of ideas too.

Malays, influenced by the Farsi, had Amazons, women who were admirals, soldiers and into the 20th century, leaders of guerilla forces who fought against Dutch colonialism, and Ministers. In Indonesia and the Philippines women were presidents.

Iran is Shi’ah. The Shi’ah, still in sectarian combat against the Sunni school of Islam in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, numbers 70 percent of Bahrain, which is a Sunni monarchy.

While Bahrain is also street-bound in the Jasmine Revolution and which can disrupt the flow of oil in the Gulf, the greater danger to regional stability issuing from the Sunni-Shiah contrast in the Gulf is the lurking Shiah community of Saudi Arabia.

They are between 12 to 15 percent of the oil giant, a number larger than what is required to stage a successful revolution of the kind that is rolling through the region.

Egypt’s revolution that ended the reign of Hosni Mubarak was performed, at its peak, by less than 2.5 percent of the whole population of 80 million.

But are we now reaching the turning point of the movement for rights and for equity?

In Libya Muammar Ghadafi reportedly ordered his country’s oil-plants to be closed, a clear address to the world that the Arab (and Iranian) reactions are on the way. Oil price surged as a result, and markets slid all over the world. Libya produces 1.6 million barrels per day.

Iran sent two naval ships through the Suez Canal en-route to Syria. About 2.4 million barrels of oil move through the Suez and the Suez-Mediterranean pipeline per day.

The threats are real, the warnings ominous. This is, after all, not merely an exercise for regional reformation but an existential conflict to the given cultures, some of which remain tribal and unaccustomed to the demands of open and democratic society.

These demands, for freedom of speech and expression, freedom of conscience, and the freedom of assembly, are anathema to many of the surviving tribal communities in the region.

While they are human essentials and for them we must cut across the boundaries of national sovereignty, making it our business to reach for democracy throughout the world, this view would be inadmissible in the monarchical Arab states or in the tribal reaches of Libyan society as well as with many communities in Iran and Iraq.

This is the underlying sensibilities in the Jasmine Revolution, an under-layer of sensibilities that may be diverse from our own and which can, in the given conflict of values, recoil as an intense and intimate conflict that is existential, and not merely a conflict of cultures.

In other words, it is clearly favorable to the making of Armageddon.

The movement for a free world will have to face the threats----a. ghani ismail, 23 February, 2011

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