Editorial : After Mubarak - Sunday, February 13, 2011

Source : http://www.dawn.com/2011/02/13/after-mubarak.html

WAS Friday the day the people of the Middle East began to reclaim their region for themselves? Amid emotional scenes that will live long in the memory of Egyptians and people across the world, the largest country in the Middle East celebrated the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-old rule. Eighteen days of the most extraordinary, peaceful, broad-based and non-ideological protests led by the youth of Egypt made what was surely the unthinkable three weeks ago become reality. And yet, in this region replete with authoritarian dictators and repressive monarchs, there is still great uncertainty going forward. In Egypt itself, much remains to be answered. A military which has guided the country from behind the scenes since a 1952 coup overthrew the monarchy is now running Egypt, promising to respect the people’s wishes. But Mr Mubarak has left behind a country plagued with deep problems, from gross economic disparities to state institutions that have been withered away by corruption and nepotism to a stunted political system in which moderate alternatives have been systematically sidelined. Ensuring that a stable, responsive democracy will emerge from the detritus of the Mubarak era will be a task almost as monumental as getting rid of the man Egyptians had dubbed ‘the pharaoh’.

Beyond the borders of Egypt, however, hopes and fears will rise even higher. Four weeks since the ouster of the Tunisian strongman, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, a second fixture of the Middle East in recent decades has been toppled. From Yemen to Bahrain and Iraq to Syria, rulers have scrambled to respond to a rising tide of popular discontent and the future is anything but certain. Some will attempt economic quick-fixes, such as in Bahrain where several thousand dollars are to be doled out to every family and in Yemen where salaries of government and military personnel have been increased. Others will try to ease some of the more repressive laws and measures in place, as in Algeria where the government has promised to lift the two-decade-old state of emergency and in Syria where access to the Internet and social-networking sites is to be loosened.

Ultimately, however, the true measure of reform will be to what extent rulers across the Middle East respond to their people’s demand for a greater say in how their affairs are regulated. The world over and through much of history, rulers have argued that their people are ‘not ready for democracy’. But the people of the Middle East rightly appear to think otherwise. Their hopes may yet be dashed, but at least it is time to ask if it is fair to ask the people of the Middle East to continue to pay the heavy cost of ‘stability’ in the region?

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