Eye on the storm


Revolution! scream the headlines. Many a quizzical eye is now firmly fixed on the Middle East. There is growing speculation that the Arabs have turned a page and are finally waking from their slumber. Many observers draw a parallel between escalating, unprecedented protests against Arab dictatorships and the uprisings that marked the

demise of the Communism in 1989. However, hopes for a revolutionary tide sweeping the Arab world seem to be misplaced.

While the timeframe may be approximately correct, the region in question is not Eastern Europe but Central Asia. As the Red empire disintegrated in 1991, Russia recognised the need for at least nominal independence for Central Asian states while desiring to maintain its iron grip over the region and its resources. It succeeded in large part when power was transferred to party bosses and KGB chiefs who morphed into presidents and faithfully preserved Russias interests while still posturing as independent heads of state.

This is what America is scrambling to replicate in the Middle East. It desperately seeks to continue its hegemony over autocratic states where its satraps have loyally served its interests. The US realises that President Mubarak is down and probably out and has drastically toned down its support.

But behind the rhetoric of peaceful transition, America is working feverishly to ensure that any new regime that emerges is one where its political allies continue to wield power while not directly contradicting its espoused values. The US will only allow democracy on its own terms, lest Arabs sweep the wrong people into power as happened in Algeria in 1991 and again in Palestine in 2006. In both cases, an Islamist movement secured electoral victory, but was elbowed out by the powerful security establishment.

Shadowy Western intelligence officials are also piping in with warnings that the Muslim Brotherhood, the main Islamic party, is poised to exploit the chaos and take control with Israel quailing at the prospect. So the Brotherhood will likely remain banned and any elections will be held under the close supervision of the security apparatus. Apparently, it is hoped that Egypt will evolve from an ossified police state that is build upon the oppression of its own people to benevolent authoritarianism so adored by the West. There is little to distinguish the two in practical terms.

While the events we are witnessing are extraordinary, there is not yet a revolution underway. In Tunisia, the uprisings that toppled President Ben Ali have been dubbed a Jasmine revolution, but the Ancien Rgime endures, with the Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi stubbornly hanging on. Although several former ministers have been dismissed after inclusion in a unity government, the victory of the Tunisian people is still far from ensured.

In all revolutions, the role of the military is often the decisive factor. The armies of both Tunisia and Egypt have set themselves up as the ultimate arbiters in any foreseeable scenario. Both have been lavishly funded and equipped by the US. Roughly $1.3 billion goes directly into the Egyptian militarys coffers annually. It is important to note that both Mubarak and Ben Ali are former high-ranking military officials. It is nave to presume that the powerful military establishment will willingly relinquish its disproportionate share of the countrys resources, power and privileges it has enjoyed for so long.

Mubaraks latest and perhaps last cabinet permutation is also noteworthy. It is revealing that he has appointed Ahmed Mohamed Shafik, former air force general, as Prime Minister and Omar Suleiman, head of Egyptian intelligence, as vice president. Israel is known to be particularly enamoured of the latter. These are the men who will guide Egypt through the peaceful transition that President Obama is advocating.

Any provisional government that emerges after the militarys meddling is likely to betray the aspirations of those participating in the popular protests and result in a mere changing of the guard with the consent of elite and masquerade as evolutionary democracy. The revolt can only become a revolution, if there is a clean break with the past and its institutions. The independent development of a new political order requires a party to provide vision and hope to the masses, demonstrating will and purpose. It must transcend the chaos and harness the unleashed energies of an emancipated people.

The most important revolutions in history have followed this pattern. Like them or not, they have been pivotal to how the modern world has been shaped. The nascent French republic persevered against seemingly insurmountable odds, Lenin forged a system that eventually encompassed a third of the globe and Khomeini brought a seismic shift that continues to reverberate today. Only when real change is achieved can it be said that the Arab world has experienced true revolution.