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Behind the Arab Democracy Movements: Why Now?
On December 17, 2010, Mohammed Bouazizi of Tunis, Tunisia, who sold vegetables from a push cart, was fined for not having a license for his vegetable cart. He was then slapped and insulted by a municipal inspector (some reports said policewoman). His immediate appeal to municipal authorities was of no avail. In frustration and dejection, Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the municipal building within an hour of the incident. This act of protest literally sparked a revolution in Tunisia. On January 14, 2011 – 28 days later – the tyrant President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia was overthrown. Protests spread to other countries and on February 11, 2011, President Muhammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak of Egypt resigned. The uprisings have spread to virtually every Arab country.Fareed Zakaria of CNN in the video below reviews the history of the Arab people. Through the centuries, non-Arab empires appointed, approved, and/or supported the despots who ruled in Arab lands. The Arab people were suppressed with no rights and little hope. Zakaria states, “For the first time in a 1,000 years, Arabs are taking control of their own affairs. Since the 11th century, Arab lands have been conquered and controlled by foreigners.” First it was the Mongols, Pashtuns, and Turks. For centuries the Ottoman Empire ruled. Then in the 19th century the Europeans came, “who carved up the region after WWI creating most of the states we know today.” Then came the Cold War, with the USA and USSR “protecting and funding their client states.” After the collapse of the USSR, “the U.S. became the only game in town and most of the Arab regimes made their peace with Washington, though Iran tried to present itself as a rival regional power.”
Zakaria continues, “Two American shifts have taken place that have unlocked the region.”
* “First, after 911, Washington became acutely aware of the fact that supporting Middle Eastern dictatorships had a downside. It was breeding an extreme, anti-American opposition movement that had embraced terrorism (al-Qaida). So, the U.S. started pushing its allies towards reform and offering much less unqualified support for the dictatorships and monarchies of the Middle East.”
* “American power itself was waning. Iraq, Afghanistan, the financial crisis all showed the U.S. was an exhausted superpower. The result, the United States is less willing and less able to play the old imperial role and prop up the old regimes.”
Zakaria notes that Arabs always had local rulers, but these sheiks, kings, and generals were appointed or supported by the outside imperial powers. These tyrants ruled the local people by force and bribery. “That game is in trouble and the Middle East is witnessing a revolt against the old order everywhere. Where it will lead, where it will succeed, where it will fail, all of this is totally unclear. But this is a big, system-wide and historic shift. So buckle your seat belts, you are watching history in the making.”
There is another factor, a crucial factor – the Internet. Expansion of knowledge via technology creates profound change. Specifically, the key factor has been online social media whereby people can organize to cause change. The answer to the Behind the Arab Democracy Movements: Why Now? – the Internet. First it was the printing press invented by Johannes Gutenberg about 1440 and was widespread in Western Europe by 1500. The Renaissance, while arguably by some scholars had already began with small steps, was immeasurably boosted by the printing press and “modern” history began. The Protestant Reformation ensued in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his Thesis on the door of Castle Catholic Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. Periodicals, newsletters, newspapers, and magazines of all kinds were created in subsequent centuries that challenged the thinking of people. Next was radio developed by Marconi, et. al. in the late 1800s. The first radio news was broadcast in 1920. During this time the telephone was invented by Alexander Bell, et. al. in the late 1800s and early 1900s and while profound was not a true mass communication medium. Later was television, though being developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the first regular programming was in Germany in 1929, but widespread use was not until after World War 2. Widespread commercial television began in the USA in 1948. The USA civil rights and anti-Vietnam war movements in the 1960s benefited immeasurably from television. The Internet incorporates all of these mediums on a worldwide scale and instantaneously. For the first time in the history of humanity, people can talk to each other anywhere on Earth and join together for common goals, bypassing controlling institutions such as governments or religions. People can challenge, reform, and overthrow these institutions as a more organized group.
CNN: Behind the Arab Democracy Movements CNN’s Fareed Zakaria says that the Arab democracy movements are 1,000 years in the making.
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