Sunday, 20 February 2011

Each To Their Own

It's been a few days since I had time to sit down and commit a few of my thoughts to the keyboard. With all currently being quiet on the domestic front, the newspapers continue to follow the amazing progress of the Arabic democracy movement, which has now spread as far as Libya and Bahrain.

My colleague Alun Jones contrasted the successful uprising in Egypt with the actions at Tiananmen Square in China, and it is possible to do the same with Bahrain and Libya.

Where Tahrir and Tiananmen went before, Pearl Square in the city of Manama has become a focal point for Bahranian protestors, who seized it joyfully earlier this week following a full military withdrawal. Sunny and Shia alike raised national flags, waved placards and cheered as the hated local police force simply upped and left.

Egypt has become a template for uprisings in the Middle East. Now, as happened before, the younger protestors have camped out in the square as negotiations begin with the ruling royal family to implement a full constitutional reform. There are those who envisage a British-style consitutional monarchy, but at the current time, nothing seems to be ruled out.

Events in Bahrain were speeded to conclusion following a massive uprising earlier this week in response to troops loyal to the ruling family firing live ammunition into crowds. This is the preferred option in Libya, where Colonel Gadaffi has directed soldiers to flashpoints in Tripoli and Benghazi.

Libya has long been a difficult place for foreign journalists to access and report from, and many of the headlines about the beleaguered country have come from unconfirmed reports from social networking sources such as Facebook and Twitter. In response, the regime has clamped down upon access to the internet - much as Mubarak tried in Egypt, unsuccessfully, some weeks ago. Accurate information is difficult to come by, but reports suggest that several hundred people in Benghazi may have died since the riots began on Wednesday.

The willingness of Libyan troops to fire so readily on their own people has echoes of the massacre at Tiananmen, but with the context of the demonstrations so utterly different, the outcome here could be different too. A nation so dependent on oil exports for wealth sees itself under the watchful eye of a dozen Western regimes, who are growing increasingly uncomfortable as violence escalates. Within the country itself, the aggression of the military seems only to spur on the protestors, buoyed as they are by the seemingly-unassailable wave of unrest that has spread across the region.

Where next will fall to the sudden demand for democracy, accountable governments and fairer distribution of wealth? Morocco has seen unrest following Wikileaks allegations of corruption amongst those close to the King. Riot police have already violently dispersed protests in Algeria that were prompted by sharp increases in commodity prices. Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have all seen anti-government demonstrations in recent weeks, to say nothing of the continued fallout of the disputed election results in Iran.

Could the unrest spread from the Middle East? There is certainly signs that all is not well within Europe. With a strong revolutionary past and Arab-minority communities, you can be sure that France is watching events very closely indeed. Italy has been the recipient of many political immigrants from North African countries and the Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is set to stand trial accused of abuse of power and paying a minor for sex. It is an inauspicious backdrop to growing domestic discontent. Germany is suffering from something of an identity crisis, as nationalist groups grow in strength and the political storm caused by the global economic crisis continues to rage unabated.

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