After the huge democratic protests swept away the remnants of its decades old authoritarian government Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” has inspired the largest protests in history in other Muslim countries suffering under the choke of dictatorships such as that of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen.
The protests are sure to inspire other democratic movements across the Middle East to demand government reform, free and fair elections, and more social and economic equity. In Tunisia, the protests were largely sparked by the ongoing economic recession and the lack of jobs. This underscores an important dimension of Middle East politics often lost in the squabbles over what to do about US support for authoritarian regimes such as Mubarak’s, which have played a vital role in sharing intelligence and suppressing global terrorism.
What is great about these protests is the chance they afford for ordinary Muslims in those countries to realign their governments through largely peaceful, democratic protest. This also creates an important opportunity for the US to transform its support of repressive governments in the Middle East in order to accommodate these democratic movements. Both sides can be winners here.
However, the forces of reaction are already gathering, especially in Egypt where the Mubarak regime has enjoyed almost total power for the last 30 years following the assassination of President Sadat in the late 70’s by the Islamic fundamentalist group, The Muslim Brotherhood. Protesters in that country demanding Mubarak’s resignation are being tear-gassed and beaten with truncheons, signaling the cold hard truth that sometimes to win the battle for democracy violence must be met with more resistance.
The democratic protests in Egypt received a boost on Wednesday when Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize returned to Cairo on Thursday. News agencies today are reporting he has placed under house arrest. Now that the democratic movement has a leader with outstanding democratic credentials, there may be a chance to topple the Mubarak regime or reach a power-sharing agreement of some kind.
Here are some pictures from the protests: