By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
The spotlight that remained glued to Afghanistan for the last so many years has suddenly shifted towards the Arab world where waves of demonstrations are sweeping several Arab countries. The wave was initially triggered in Tunisia as a consequent to self immolation of a young unemployed graduate Muhammad Bouazizi on 17 December and soon turned into ‘Jasmine Revolution’. Cyberspace, Facebook and twitter played a role in stirring revolutionary fervor. Tunisian Army refused to fire on the protesters and stood on their side, which cooked the goose of autocratic ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Fed up of state repression, corruption, unemployment and un-Islamic practices, the determined protestors forced him and his wife Leila to flee on 14 January and take shelter in Jeddah thus ending his 23-year rule. He had desired to shift to Paris since France had all along patronized his way of governance but changed his mind after receiving a cold response. The couple took along 1.5 tons of gold ingots.
A government of national unity was formed in Tunis on 17 January but it was reshuffled on 27th and a transition government installed, which granted unprecedented concessions. It promised free elections within six months and declared full freedom of speech and adopted an amnesty law for those persecuted by Ben Ali regime. Religious preacher Rached Ghannouchi who was against Ben Ali’s enforcement of secularism in the country and undermining of Islamic practices was persecuted and forced to go into exile in 1989. After the fall of Ben Ali, he returned to Tunis on 30 January and was lustily cheered by the crowds. He plans to launch a new political party Ennahda (awakening) and take part in country’s first democratic elections.
Responding to public protest, old faces of previous regime have been removed and the interim cabinet reshuffled, but till elections things would remain uncertain. Curfew has been lifted but not the emergency imposed on 14 January. More than 200 people died during popular revolt known as ‘Jasmine Revolution’ the ripple effects of which have been felt across North Africa and the Middle East. The overall situation in Tunisia is still in a fluid state and now it is up to the interim government to ensure smooth transition and bring a healthy change in the lives of deprived segment.
The young demonstrators in Egypt galvanized by the events in Tunisia took to the streets on 25 January to get rid of the 30-year old dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak. On the 18th day of the popular revolt, the youth-led protest movement achieved a monumental victory by forcing Hosni to abdicate power. He handed over the power to his newly appointed Vice President Lt Gen Omar Suleiman and authorized Supreme Council of Armed Forces under Defence Minister Tantawi to run the state affairs. He then flew to Sharm el Sheikh where he has his private residence. The Military has vowed to pave the way for democracy and to bring suitable amendments in the constitution but has so far not given a firm date for elections.
On 28 January thousands of Jordanians propelled by Muslim Brotherhood demonstrated in Amman and other cities of Jordan to press for political and economic reforms and demanding resignation of the ruling regime. They demanded constitutional amendments to curb king’s power empowering him to appoint and dismiss prime minister. The situation in Jordon could have further deteriorated had Abdullah not hastened to take preventive measures like dissolution of ruling cabinet and forming a new one and announcing some reforms. Simmering is however continuing and may flare up again.
South Yemen had been a British colony till as late as 1967. After Ali Abdullah Saleh took over power as President in 1978, he worked towards integration and succeeded in uniting southern part with Soviet influenced northern Yemen in 1990. He was re-elected in 2006 for a seven-year mandate. Yemeni parliament is considering making him president for life. He has all along pursued pro-US and pro-Saudi foreign policy. The country is now plagued by upheavals caused by rebellious Shia’s in the north and secessionist movement in the south together with heavy al-Qaeda presence. Central government controls only one-third of the country. Multi-directional threat to the regime is of concern to USA as well as to Saudi Arabia. Although Yemen has very little to offer economically but both are mindful of its geo-strategic location which helps in strategic economic gains. Yemen overlooks Gulf of Aden, connecting Black Sea to Arabian Sea.
The US has positioned Special Forces, activated CIA and sent weapons and equipment and used drones and cruise missiles to crush movements for independence and to push out Al-Qaeda elements which are active in entire Arabian Peninsula. Saudi regime is also taking direct action to help Saleh. The US has recently signed a $60 billion weapons contract with Riyadh to enable it to hpw support Yemen and to counter Iran.
Some members of ruling party had lent active support to pro-government supporters in Cairo but Saleh’s regime opted to extend support to the people who brought down Mubarak. Encouraged by the success of Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and in Egypt, Yemenis staged a mass demonstration in Sanaa calling on Saleh to quit. The ruling regime has to some extent been able to contain Tunis like uprising with the help of Saleh’s tribe armed with clubs and knives and backed by ruling General People’s Congress who countered the protesters successfully. Saleh has called for formation of unity government and promised to step down when his term ends in 2013. However, his offers have not pacified the people and strength of protesters in Sanaa is gradually swelling.
People of Algeria languishing under autocratic rule of President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika since 1999 have also started to agitate. Success in Tunisia and Egypt has galvanized them to bring a change in their country as well. A beginning was made on 12 February when large number of protesters battled with the riot police in Algiers. Protesters want emergency imposed in 1992 to end, growing price hike and high unemployment to be controlled and democratic reforms introduced. The country has gone through a bloody revolution in the wake of cancellation of first multiparty elections in January 1992 by the Army at the behest of USA and brutal persecution of the Islamists resulting in loss of 200,000 lives. The Army had taken over to pre-empt takeover by an Islamist Party. Although the government has promised to lift emergency and to bring down food prices, protests are likely to gather momentum.
Bahrain which had won independence in 1971 was ruled by King Hamad. In the 2001 referendum, the country was transformed from Emirate into a constitutional monarchy and led to elections in 2002. The King named Khalifa bin Salman as the PM. The country has Shia majority but is ruled by Sunni rulers. In the wake of protests in several Muslim countries, people of Bahrain also got affected and came out on the streets on 15 February. Protest marches were led by opposition groups including Shiite bloc al-Wefaq in Manama and other cities. They demand resignation of the regime and amendment in constitution to allow people to elect the leader of the House rather than the King. They also demand formation of national unity government. Troop firing on the protesters resulted in killing of four dead and over 230 injured. Fifty persons of security also received injuries. Although protests have not gained any momentum, tempers are still high.
Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Gulf States are also feeling the ripple effect. Pakistan is saddled with similar problems on account of which several uprisings have taken place in quick succession. Internally, it is faced with Taliban insurgency in the northwest, secessionist movement in Balochistan, troubled Karachi, politically polarized Punjab, aggressive religious extremist forces, secular-Islamic divide, disturbed law and order situation, fragile economy, rampant corruption, increasing poverty, price spiral and unemployment. Externally, it is up against hostile India, unstable and not so friendly Afghanistan, unreliable and overbearing USA which is brazenly meddling in Pakistan’s domestic affairs. Beset with so many troubles, corrupt and inept government has done little to redress any of the social inequities. Unless emergent measures are taken, time is not far that social unrest may engulf the whole nation.
Brig Asif Haroon Raja, a Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker is Staff College and Armed Forces War Coursequalified, holds MSc war studies degree; a second generation officer, he fought epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war, in which Maj M. Akram received Nishan-e-Haider posthumously. He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is lingual and speaks English, Pashto and Punjabi fluently. He is author of books titled ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, Roots of 1971 Tragedy’; has written number of motivational pamphlets. Draft of his next book ‘Tangled Knot of Kashmir’ is ready. He is a defence analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defence and political matters for numerous international/national newspapers/websites.