Riding the Waves of Democracy

It seems I’ve done a lot of writing about Africa since the start of the year, but with good reason. (click here, here, and here for previous entries)  That is where the biggest stories have been thus far.  It doesn’t come much bigger than the masses rising up against their authoritarian regime peacefully.  And it was on Friday (February 11, 2011) that the people of Egypt were successful in ousting longtime leader President Mubarak.  Today marks the first full day without Mubarak as the leader in 30 years.  So how do the Egyptians celebrate?  By returning to “Liberation Square” to clean up the mess, and to show the world that they are Egypt and that they will take care of it.  So who’s ruling Egypt now?  Unfortunately, the military.  There is still no word yet as to when a free and fair election will be held.  And as much joy as I have for the success of the Egyptian people and what they have accomplished (and how they have accomplished it), I sincerely hope it doesn’t spiral into a military dictatorship.  The people wanted Mubarak to be gone and to have a democratic state, and I hope that’s what they get for the 18-days of peaceful protesting that they did (despite the pro-Mubarak supporters attempting to incite violence into the movement).  It just goes to prove that the people can change a country without the use of violence or guns… but peacefully. I think Gandhi would have been impressed.

So with the Egyptian people being successful… and as we still wait to see where things settle now that the dust is beginning to clear, what is next?  Well the rest of the world has been watching very closely.  And other authoritarian regimes are doing everything they can to invoke ways to allow the people’s voices to be heard or doing more to suppress them.  In places like China, the Communist Party has ruthlessly stamped out dissent and has downplayed the Egyptian protests as being disorder and lawlessness.  In Equatorial Guinea, where the leader has been in power since 1979 (he assumed power in a coup), the media was ordered to stop reporting on Egypt altogether.

But despite some rulers’ and some nations’ shortcomings, there is a new wave of democracy spreading through northern Africa and the Middle East region.  Though the people of Jordan want their king to stay in power (King Abdullah), they have been speaking out for more say in their government and for being able to elect the Prime Minister of the country.   On Saturday, thousands of protesters marched in Yemen’s capital of Sana’a calling on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down.  Yemen President Saleh has been in power since 1978 and has promised not to run for “reelection” in 2013.  The question remains though, will that be enough and do the people believe him?

These are not the only places to be dealing with the after-effects of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings.  30,000 police are out in the Algerian capital of Algiers to guard against an anti-government protest which is illegal under Algeria’s 19-year-old state of emergency.  The people are calling for an end to the state of emergency laws and for the ouster of their leader.  Even in the US-ally nation of Bahrain, activist are calling for a protest to start on Monday.  And because of this, the Bahrain leader has tried to bribe them into submission by giving all its citizens $1000 to show it’s “appreciation of the people.”  Though I wish my government would just give me $1000, it wouldn’t fix anything.  So even though the people might be “appreciative” of the “free” money, it’s doubtful it’ll stop anything.  And even the nation of Kazakhstan (central Asia) has suddenly called for a snap-election to be held on April 3.  And the opposition party has announced their candidate.  The leader of Kazakhstan has been in power since the nation won its independence when the former Soviet Union broke up.

And there are still more countries within this sphere that have now seen what has happened in Egypt.  Despite seeing the warning signs from the Tunisian protests, it still could not be stopped.  So other nations that are under the gun, in addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned are Libya, Syria, Oman, United Arab Emarites, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar, even Kuwait, Burma (or Myanmar) in southeast Asia is dealing with anti-government protest threats, and it will be interesting to see what happens in southern Sudan when it officially becomes a separate and independent nation in July.  And this is not an entire list of nations with authoritarian regimes… but probably the most likely to see something attempt to get started up if it hasn’t already.  Other nations that aren’t even being watched could suddenly flare up as well.

Despite what authoritian regimes may think, the ultimate power still rests with the people.  And we have seen that proven this year in very big ways.  And I don’t see this as the end point yet, but rather as still the beginning.  If any of the authortian regimes want to stay in power, they are going to be making some serious reforms and be doing some things for the people.  In Jordan, for example, they should consider making the government a constitutional monarchy like that of England.  The King would still be there as they want him to be, but they’d be electing people to a parliament and the Prime Minister would come from that… thus giving the people a huge voice.

Protests and ousting an authoritarian leader can lead to just about anyone taking over.  So far, both sets of protests have been secular and quite peaceful.  But for now, there is still a power vacuum in both places.  In Tunisia, the election is set for later this year.  In Egypt, no date has been given as of yet and the military is in charge (which scares me plenty).  So there is still plenty of work to be done, and I do hope that they didn’t just throw out one authoritarian regime only to replace it with another.  And it is very important that any additional protests in other nations must follow the example set by both Tunisia and Egypt… secular and peaceful.  These two things cannot be stressed enough.  The rest of the world is still watching and waiting to see what country (or countries) will now flare up since the Egyptian people were successful.

As I close out, I want to pose a couple of questions to you.  Feel free to leave your answers in the comments below.  Most of us here in the US (and other countries in the Western Hemisphere) are aware that Cuba is controlled by an authoritarian regime.  Could the same thing that is happening on the other side of the world happen there as a result or does its great distance from all of those events keep it out of it?  And my second question, if the US hadn’t invaded Iraq and Saddam Hussein was still in power as this was going on, is it possible that the people could have risen up against him finally and ousted him themselves (as they would have seen done in Tunisia and Egypt)?  (And yes, I am aware that none of us could have predicted any of this happening at the time we invaded Iraq… but I’m still asking the question.)

UPDATE: The Palestinian Authority has now announced plans to hold presidential and legislative elections by September.

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