Friday, February 11, 2011

The Domino Effect Revisited

After the fall of Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, speculation ran rampant as to whether the revolution that overthrew Ben Ali would spread throughout Africa and the Middle East because the conditions, complaints, and socio-economic situations are pervasive throughout the region.

Special concern was focused on Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and even Iran.

The concern about Egypt was especially well placed, and the events over the past three weeks, up to and including the news that the military sent Hosni Mubarak packing into the sunset this morning show that there may be something to the domino effect (or as I put it - a spillover effect).

While the focus has long been on the Middle Eastern regimes, there's a notable lack of democratic regimes in Africa, and countries South of Egypt and Tunisia may be looking at Tunisia and Egypt as a model for their own stand against autocratic, kleptocratic, and otherwise totalitarian regimes. Africans are going to take a good long look at the events of the past two months as a model for their own political discontent.

That includes some of the usual suspects, like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, and Libya's Mumar Khadafi. In fact, Libya's between a literal rock and hard place as it is sandwiched between Tunisia and Egypt and Khadafi has been stifling the country's development for 41 years.

So, while any number of regimes are necessarily worried about the people rising up against them, including Syria, Bahrain has said that they don't see a domino effect. I'm sure that Mubarak was thinking the same thing up to and including last night's speech - and the abrupt change in government this morning that sent him packing.

If anyone thinks that there can't or wont be a spillover effect, or a domino effect through the region clearly hasn't been paying attention. Jordan and Syria have been trying to take steps to avert a regime change, and Iran's mullahs have already weathered one attempt (and another attempt is likely to receive renewed vigor in light of events in Cairo).

Iran's regime survived the threat posed by the opposition as led by Mirhussein Mousavi because their secret police, the IRGC, and paramilitary force (Basij) wasn't constrained in the way that the Egyptian army was. The Basij was merciless in its oppression and the crackdown was harsh and thorough to the point that it's debatable whether the opposition could attempt another uprising to demonstrate against the Islamist regime in charge.

But other countries in the region aren't in that kind of position. Their regimes aren't nearly as stable or confident in their security forces to quell potential demonstrations. Their leaders aren't as willing to modernize and impose changes necessary to improve the sociopolitical situation, and that is going to lead to more regimes being contested openly.

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