A Reflection on Current Events in the Middle East

By Yacoub Shomali

As I am typing these words, thousands of Egyptians are camping in Tahrir (Liberation) Square demanding Husni Mubarak’s immediate resignation as the president of Egypt. More than one million Egyptians have demanded an end to Mubarak’s 30-year rule of Egypt through protests that lasted for more than a week. Yet Mubarak is still there. He seems to be like the parent-in-law who just doesn’t get the message.Mubarak has witnessed five different US presidents and five different UK prime ministers during his 30-year rule. In those years Egypt’s government was in a ‘state of emergency’ thereby giving the president high-reaching power. During those years Egypt has suffered economically and a large portion of the population live in despicable conditions. Egyptians have had enough, and that was manifested through the recent protests that were on a national scale. As one guy put it: “Mubarak. You go, I go home. The End”.

Given Egypt’s political significance in Arab-Israeli affairs, these protests could influence events in many other Arab countries, mainly Tunisia, Jordan, and Yemen. On Dec. 17, protests erupted in Tunisia, over the case of Mohammad Bouazizi. Bouazizi was a street vendor. One day a police officer confiscated his cart (the sole income for his family of eight), insulted his deceased father, and spat in his face. Bouazizi’s complaints were not heard by municipality officials, and, in protest, he set himself on fire. What Bouazizi did not know at that time was that he was sowing the seeds of something much greater than he could have imagined.

On Jan. 14, after a month of intense protests and collisions between civilians and the police, ex-President Ben-Ali fled to Saudi Arabia. Ben-Ali had ruled Tunisia for 30 years. He and his wife had increased their wealth at the expense of Tunisia’s people and economy, which is already plagued with high inflation and unemployment rates.

When the rest of the Arab world saw that Tunisia successfully overthrew the dictator Ben-Ali, everybody wanted a piece of the action. The sudden belief that swept through the Arab people -the belief that “Yes we can!” (Sorry Obama)- triggered a domino effect whose repercussions we see today. Not only did protests emerge in Egypt, they also did in Jordan. Protests are being organized in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Algeria. All of those countries’ leaders have been there for quite a while.

Now the question that many people are asking is, will things change? Well Tunisia is being governed by a transitional government pending presidential elections. The government in Jordan resigned and a new prime minister was appointed in his place. Whether these protests will bring about change in the Middle East is subject to many different variables that are not bound only in the Middle East.

For example, Egypt plays a central role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Having the biggest Arab military, Egypt under Sadat’s rule has signed a peace treaty with Israel (Camp David 1978). The question that has sparked the US’s interest in the Egyptian ‘civil unrest’ (despite the lack of interest from the US administration in the revolution in Tunisia) is the immediate impact the new regime will bring about in terms of its diplomatic relationships with Israel. That question has sparked many debates among Egyptians, Arabs, and people from all over the world. Nothing is for certain, but the Middle East cannot withstand a major scale war.

I see the protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, and several other Arab countries as a great prospect of peace. Until all of the Arab people are given their freedom of opinion and speech, political stability in this region will never be achieved. I am content that the world has finally realized that oppression will not get us very far. People must be given their complete liberty in choosing their form of government.

There are a lot of things to say, express, and discuss about the current events in the Middle East and it could takes days to discuss. However in my opinion I would have to stress the fact that the Middle East, despite being a very unstable area in the world, still holds political significance globally. What is going on now is something remarkable; it is the physical manifestation of the democratic demands of the Arab people and their voice of change.

Yacoub Shomali ’13 is Co-chair of the Middle Eastern Student Association and can be reached at [email protected]