Friday, February 25, 2011

Winds of change

The winds of change are sweeping across the Middle East leaving a vast swathe of destruction (or could it be construction?) in their wake.

In a dramatic show of people's power, the governments of nations in the Muslim crescent have been brought to their knees by the very people they are supposed to serve.

First it was Tunisia, then it was Egypt and the demonstration of people's power has spread to other nations like Algeria, Bahrain, Libya, Iran and Yemen.

The question is - what fuelled these revolts? Each nation has its own unique issues, but generally the Middle- East nations have been controlled either by despotic leaders who have overstayed or by absolute monarchs who have favoured their circle of cronies or tribal leaders.

Though there is much oil wealth in this region, the wealth has not been equitably distributed - the handful of rich live ostentatiously and shop in London, dine in Paris and party in the Caribbean.

Most of the nations with oil have depended for far too long on the diminishing natural resource and did not diversify their economies enough. Thus while the elite were skiing in the Alps, the poor could not find work even as prices of food rose.

And when there was dissent, the vociferous rabble-rousers were silenced by questionable and brutal methods.

But the leaders found it hard to control certain things - like the Internet and the handphone.

Through social networking sites like FaceBook and Twitter, the disgruntled and mostly young jobless Arabs vented their frustrations and later organised their protests.

This is the new face of revolution - the FaceBook revolution. Anyone can post a message to meet at a certain place and certain time for a demonstration and tens of thousands of protestors will be there.

The protestors turned up in symbolic spots of cities; so did the army. Governments normally resort to heavy-handed tactics when confronted this way and so the thugs, mercenaries and soldiers were let loose to massacre the masses. Look at what's happening in Libya.

But once blood is spilt, a matyr is created. Just to correct Gaddafi, the eccentric and perhaps lunatic leader of Libya, matyrs are those who die fighting for freedom or some idealistic cause, not ageing despots who want to die hanging on to power.

While the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were secular, the demonstrations in Bahrain has a religious factor - it is a fight between the minority Sunni Muslim elite and the impoverished Shiites, who though being in the majority have suffered from discrimination for ages.

Nobody is certain what the Middle East will look like when the flames are doused and the rubble cleared.

Some commentators have said that the Arab nations should look at the political models in fellow Muslim nations like Malaysia and Indonesia where there is some semblance of democracy.

Also, Malaysia's constitutional monarchy - which is styled after the English model - could also be a system that the Sultans and Emirs of Arabia could implement.

The revolutions in the Middle East have taught vital lessons - the anger and frustration of the people cannot be suppressed forever, and freedom and democracy are very powerful motivators.

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