When I first sat down to write this article, it was January 5th and very early in the morning. I was scanning various international news headlines on the internet as I do every morning when an item from Tunis attracted my attention. A 26 year old Egyptian, Mohamed Bouazizi who had doused himself in gasoline and set himself afire nearly three weeks ago on December 17th had died in the hospital early that morning. Bouazizi had an engineering degree from a University but had been unemployed since graduation! I thought that this was a very important and unique event and started to follow the story as it unfolded. One almost never hears of young men with such high levels of education in Muslim Arab countries setting themselves afire. There had to be more to the story. I read on… What drove this young engineer to do such a thing at this point in his young life? Despite his education, Bouazizi was forced to sell fruit and vegetables on the street in the Sidi Bouzid region of central Tunisia just to earn a living. Police had confiscated his produce because he did not have a proper permit, and to add insult to injury slapped him on his face in public. Having lost his produce, this highly educated young man had now lost his dignity and he could no longer take it.
On December 22, another young man, Sidi Bouzid, climbed up a high voltage electric pole and electrocuted himself on the cable, after announcing that he was fed up with being unemployed.
These two seemingly unrelated events inTunis, a relatively moderate Arab country in North Africa sparked days of rioting and culminated in the eventual resignation and flight from Tunis of the strongman President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family to Saudi Arabia with a ton and a half of gold in tow. The “Tunisian Freedom Fire” was now lit.
On December 24, the rioting got worse; Tunisians were filling the streets daily and shouting anti-government slogans. Finally rioters burned down the local headquarters of the National Guard who responded with gunshots, killing an 18-year old protestor. Later in December 2010, these riots finally spread to the capital Tunis. President Ali responded to the protests by firing his cabinet and a local governor, but to no avail. The protestors indicated that their protests were driven by high unemployment and high prices of raw materials and they were calling for radical reforms. The official unemployment rate in Tunis is 14 percent; however percentage of University graduates without work is estimated to be double that at 14%.
President Ben Ali was appointed Prime Minister in October 1987 and assumed the Presidency in November 1987 in a bloodless coup from then President Habib Bourguiba, who was declared incompetent. Ben Ali was subsequently re-elected with huge majorities (?) at every election, the final one being October 25, 2009. He was setting himself as a President-for-life and there were no indications of his willingness to leave.
I wanted to mention these facts in order to set the stage for what may be in store for the despots and presidents-for-life in all Muslim Arab countries in the coming days, weeks andmonths. When Ben Ali landed in the relative safety of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, albeit with an arrest warrant from the Interpol waiting for him if he ever tries to leave; speculation had already started as to which Arab country would be next. The consensus was Egypt; but this was a difficult one to gauge. Egypt has been ruled by Mohammad Hosni Sayyid Mubarak, the fourth President of the Arab Republic of Egypt. Like Ben Ali in Tunisia, Mubarak was first appointed Vice President in 1975 and assumed the Presidency on October 14, 1981, following the assassination of Anwar El Sadat. He was a career officer in the Egyptian Air Force prior to getting involved in politics. He was the longest serving Egyptian ruler until his “resignation” on the morning of February 5th.
Both Tunisia and Egypt are North African Arab countries with majority Muslim populations. Both are important allies of the United Sates and Egypt has the distinction of being the only major Arab country which has a peace accord with Israel. It is also where Suez Canal is situated where 80% the world’s ocean trade passes through on a daily basis.
As of today, February 5, 2011 the “Tunisian Freedom Fire” which was sweeping through the Arab world seems stalled in Egypt. However, Yemen, Syria and Jordan may be next in line, all depending upon how events shape the political landscape in Egypt in the next few days. Assuming Mubarak leaves one way or the other which seems certain now, what will post-Mubarak Egypt look like? In order to answer that question, one must understand the roleof the “Muslim Brotherhood” in Egyptian politics in particular and around the world in general.
Muslim Brotherhood which many Americans may not be familiar with (except for its name) is a major player in Egyptian life and politics as well as in most Muslim countries. This influential Islamist group was formed in Egypt in 1928 by the Islamic scholar and Sufi school teacher Hassan al-Banna as “The Society of Muslim Brothers” or simply “The Brotherhood”. It is an Islamist transnational movement and the largest political opposition organization in many Arab states. The Brotherhood’s stated goal is to “instill the Quran as the sole reference point for ordering the life of Muslims around the world; for families, individuals, communities and states! The Muslim Brotherhood which is credited for creating Al Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas is officially banned in Egypt and members have been routinely arrested for their participation in it. However, brotherhood supporters routinely run for office as “independents” to circumvent this ban.
As of this writing, no one knows what may happen in Egypt in the coming days. By the time you read these lines, the issues may have already been settled. However, as of today one has to believe that the Egyptian Army will take over and appoint a caretaker government until elections may be held. This has historically been the modus operandi of such revolutions in the Muslim world. Obviously, we as Americans must be vigilant and watch the events carefully. In pursuit of a democratic Egypt, we may end up with another Iranian style Mullah controlled regime in a country which has a vast majority Muslimpopulation of 80 million sharing a border with Israel, our only ally in the area. The same goes for others in the area. Yemen, where Al Qaida operates freely may fall next. Syria, which is not a friend of the USA with a population of 22 million Muslim Arabs who have been under the thumb of the Assad family for decades may also fall into the hands of the Brotherhood. Israel’s only other ally in the area, and her closest neighbor Jordan may follow. With a population of 6 million Muslims and under the rule of the Hashemite kings, Jordan is home to many Palestinians who were displaced by Israel after her independence in 1949.
The Arab world with its many despots and dictators, some of whom are our “friends and allies” are now shaking in their collective boots. The “Tunisian Freedom Fire” which is temporarily stalled in Egypt may start to roll again soon and consume the rest of this strategically important area. The end results may have dire consequences for us here in America. Democracy in the Middle East may be a desired result when viewed from where we are situated; but that may not necessarily bode well for the world economy and our daily lives.
The big question now is “Will Saudi Arabia, ruled by aging kings and an ever growing Royal Family sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves be able to withstand the “Tunisian Freedom Fire” lit on December 22, 2009 by the young engineer Mohamed Bouazizi who could “no longer take it”?
Currently a member of Marco Island’s Code Enforcement Board, Tarik Ayasun has given many years of community service to various organizations.