Friday, March 11, 2011

Unrest in MidEast-Africa 7: Cry for freedom

(Note: this is my article today in

Globalization means mobility and mobility means freedom. As globalization expands, people’s impatience to political repression, dictatorships and monarchies grows. Seeing faster economic growth and freedom of expression in other countries, people in politically repressed countries become more demanding.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, mainly the Muslim-Arab areas, also some of the world’s major oil exporting countries, has become the scene of widespread political unrest this year. So far, the long-time leaders of Tunisia and Egypt (they sandwich Libya between them) have been toppled. Libya’s dictator for 41 years, Muammar Qaddafi (“Qadhafi”, “Gaddafi”, “Gadhafi”, “Khadafy”, etc.), is now fighting a serious political and military battle against his people who want to try democracy in that country.

Here is a map, the leaders and major issues why people in MENA region are politically restive these days.

1. North Africa:

Libya: Dictator Qadhafi in power for 41 years, going 42 this year. Demand for freedom, democracy and free elections, ; protest against high unemployment, lack of housing and other social services.

Egypt: Former President Hosni Mubarak in office for 30 years before he was toppled last month; lack of free elections, high food prices, high unemployment, other economic issues; ending the Emergency Law and release of political prisoners.

Tunisia. Ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in power for 23 years. High unemployment, high prices, corruption, political repression. An unemployed college graduate burned himself after police confiscated his fruit cart, cutting his source of income, and this triggered the revolt. Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi also resigned in late February after another round of violent protests in the capital, Tunis.

Morocco: Usual demand for political reforms. Protests are not huge as such demands are on other political parties’ agenda.

Sudan: President Omar al-Bashir in power since a military coup in 1989 or 22 years rule so far. He said he is not running for another term in 2015 elections. He “won” another five-year term in last year’s election, opposition parties boycotted due to large-scale fraud complaints. He is facing an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Djibouti: President Ismail Omar Guelleh has ruled since 1999 but his family has been in power since independence from France in 1977, or 34 years family rule. An election is scheduled next month and Guelleh will seek a third term. Dictatorship plus high unemployment, economic stagnation, drive people to the streets.

2. Middle East Asia:

Syria. President Bashar Al-Assad has been in power since 2000, succeeding his father, Hafez Al-Assad, who has ruled Syria for 29 years, 1971 to 2000. The father-son and their Baathist party have ruled the country for four decades now. Protesters demand political and economic freedom, civil liberties, lifting of the Emergency law which has been in effect since 1963.

Saudi Arabia. Absolute monarchy. Current King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz has been in power since 2005, succeeding King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud who reigned from 1982-2005 (23+ years), who succeeded King Khalid who reigned from 1975-1982 (7 years). Demonstrators demand the release of Shiite prisoners, more political rights, others demand the creation of a constitutional monarchy.

Yemen. President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ruled since 1978 or 33+ years in power. There is a Shiite Muslim uprising, a looming water crisis, high unemployment and poverty, corruption, lack of political freedom. Saleh promised not to run for president in the next elections.

Oman. Another absolute monarchy. The head, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, has ruled for 41 years now, after overthrowing his own father in a coup in 1970, Sultan Said bin Taimur, who reigned from 1932-1970 (38 years). Corruption, cronyism, lack of political freedom, are among the issues of the recent protesters.

Bahrain: A constitutional monarchy. King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa reigned since 1999 (12 years), succeeding Monarch or Emir Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, ruled from 1961 until his death in 1999 (38 years). Some protesters are calling for the removal of the royal family who led the country since the 18th century. Young Shiite Muslim majority protested against corruption, discrimination, high unemployment.

Iran. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been in power since 2005, still a young dictatorship. Protesters’ issues include the fraudulent 2009 elections where he “won” again, corruption, cronyism.

Iraq: The Saddam Hussein dictatorship was removed not by popular revolt but by American bombs and troops. Current demonstrators generally not targeting yet the downfall of the new government, angry over corruption, lousy basic services, high unemployment, food shortages.

Kuwait: Another constitutional monarchy. The Emirs Al-Sabbah (5 rulers) have reigned from 1961 up to the present or 50 years in power. Prior to the Emirs were the Sheikhs Al-Sabbah (10 rulers) who reigned from the 1760s. Current protesters demand bigger rights for aliens but are longtime residents. Nearly half of its 3.6 million population are non-Kuwaiti nationals.

A long list of dictators, Kings and Emirs, ruling their countries for decades (except in current Iran and Iraq), some even for centuries like Kuwait. Democratic elections, regular change of political leadership, economic freedom, are non-existent concepts for many of the people there.

BIG governments, from democratic ones like the Philippines and Indonesia, to monarchies and dictatorships like in MENA region, are always the main source of economic frustration and political repression of many people around the world.

I just hope that the transition from monarchy and dictatorships to democracy in many countries there will be quick, like what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. Then those countries can move to a society of more liberty and less government someday.

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