|"Hey! I shout better than you! Down with Mubarak!"|
They’ve all been ruled by despots. This is what Tunisia and Egypt had in common. Both Ben Ali and Mubarak have been in power for more than 30 years. And getting through more than 30 years in power meant getting around the weak democratic system of governance in their countries. Mubarak, who came into power in succession to the assassinated Anwar Sadat, asked his rubber stamp parliament to revise the constitution in 2005 in order to allow multi-party elections for the first time in more than 40 years. This enabled him to run for his fifth and final term against largely unpopular opponents, since the formidable ones have been largely harassed and oppressed by government forces. Ben Ali is also known to have used force and intimidation against opposition figures in his country.
Another commonality these two nations have is their alliance with Western Powers. The Ben Ali and Mubarak administrations have largely feared an Islamic fundamentalist regime in their own nations and have sought American alliance on their war against terror. In return, the US has poured millions in military and developmental aid to these countries to fight Islamic fundamentalists. Egypt is the second non-NATO recipient of military aid after Israel. From 1979 to 2003, it received $19 billion in military aid and $30 billion in economic aid. In 2009, the figures were $1.3 billion in military aid and $256.1 billion in economic aid. In the case of Tunisia, it received $8.41 million in military aid in 2006 and requested an additional $2.1 million in 2008 to fight extremism in the south. However, there is really no assurance if this aid was indeed used to fight extremism. But one thing is clear; little has improved in the lives of ordinary Tunisians and Egyptians despite foreign aid. Extremism is still on the rise.
Therefore, if these parameters are to be used in finding commonalities, the following countries are likely candidates as the next dominoes in this wave of popular uprisings in the Arab World.
Leader: President Ali Abdullah Saleh
Foreign Relations: Key US ally in the War on Terror; received $20-$25 million annualy in foreign aid.
Likelihood of Revolution: 4 out 5.
Notes: It is interesting to note that Ali Abdullah Saleh has been ruling Yemen since 1979, first as president of North Yemen, and then as president of the unified Yemen since 1999. His party, the General People’s Congress has also been the ruling party since the 1970s. He is largely portrayed as a strongman, using his armed forces to quash both opposition and the Al Qaeda in Yemen. He known to have been friends with Saddam Hussein and has supported the latter’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991. As we have seen in recent developments, Yemenis have also gathered to protest Saleh’s rule and called for his resignation in what has been called a “Day of Rage”. If Saleh manages to rally his loyalists to counter a popular uprising then he’ll could still cling to power amid chaos and violence that could break Yemen once again into pieces. Saleh has since announced that he will step down in 2013.
Leader: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (elected 1999)
Foreign Relations: Former French colony. Not a recipient of US foreign military aid but enjoys vibrant trade relations with US, France and Russia.
Likelihood of Revolution: 3 ½ out of 5
Notes: Bouteflika, while relatively shorter in terms of office compared to Mubarak, Ben Ali and Saleh, his election had the backing of the military which was highly against Islamist rebels in the south that are involved in the Algerian Civil War. The military has declared a State of Emergency since 1992 when the civil war started and has since banned political parties based on religion. More than 160,000 Algerians have died in the conflict. After Bouteflika’s election, much of the country returned to normalcy and stability, with the economy gaining steadily due to tourism and gas exports. Many are fearing a return to chaos brought on by Islamic fundamentalists so it is very unlikely that Bouteflika will be ousted by an “Islamic” revolution. However, rising food prices and lack of housing has also sparked riots in Algeria around the same time as the Tunisian revolution. If it remains unmet, Islamists could take advantage of escalation in protests. Bouteflika has since lifted the 1992 State of Emergency declaration.
To be continued...