Editorial - Spring tides - Monday, February 21, 2011

Source : http://thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=32261&Cat=8

Spring tides tend to rise high, and the tides of the approaching equinox in the Arab world are higher up the beaches of repressive regimes than they have ever been. Over 100 people are now dead in Libya, and the state media was on Saturday quoted as saying that the government would meet protest with ‘destructive force’. This it clearly has, with unconfirmed reports of snipers being used by the government to pick off leading activists, and women and children dead in some numbers. The protests against the Gaddafi regime are mostly in the east of the country and the capital Tripoli still appears to be a Gaddafi stronghold. Meanwhile, in the Gulf the protesters have once again set up camp in the Pearl Square as the regime appears, for the time being, to have drawn back from the violence that saw perhaps as many as a dozen dead in the last week. The government is offering talks to the opposition groups, but as in Egypt this is unlikely to satisfy the protesters who want change at the top and quickly, and not an offer to talk about how the status quo may be maintained. In both Libya and Bahrain there appears to be a hunger for popular revolt, and in both countries, and as in Egypt and Tunisia, this is a hunger fed by an absence of fear.

The stripping away of fear from within repressive regimes — the discovery by the populace that they can also be agents of change rather there mere subjects of repression — is a defining characteristic of the pan-Arab unrest. What is also of considerable significance is that in none of the countries that have ‘lost’ their rulers or those that may be about to is the unrest driven or led by those with a religious agenda. There is a religious – as in sectarian – underpinning to the protests in Bahrain, but it is led by secular rather than religious figures. The same was true in Egypt, where the government invoked the spectre of the Muslim Brotherhood as the bogeyman that would somehow hijack or usurp popular sentiment. That did not happen. What may happen in the event of free and fair elections in Egypt is another matter entirely; the point to be made is that these are essentially secular uprisings by a mass of people who feel they have little to lose but their chains. Other countries may follow suit with Egypt and Tunisia, and if Bahrain falls the really interesting question is around whether the US Fifth Fleet will have to be looking for a new home. The tides have yet to reach their peak.

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