Greedy regimes stirred Arab anger: analysts

BAGHDAD, Sammy Ketz- Behind the uprisings that began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East is Arab anger at absolute regimes which ruled their states as personal domains, political analysts say.
"A corrupt elite backed by Western countries emerged with an incredible arrogance," said Burhan Ghalioun, director of the Centre for Contemporary Oriental Studies at the Sorbonne University in Paris.

Greedy regimes stirred Arab anger: analysts
"Its sole motivation was the accumulation of wealth, unlike predecessors who had showed a willingness to change the lives of the disadvantaged," he said.
This month's uprising in Tunisia inspired the ongoing revolt in Egypt, analysts say, prompting speculation that the Arab world is on the threshold of a period of greater democracy.
"It is the failure of a model that combined a wild opening of the market with medieval despotism, in addition to leaders who cling to power for more than 30 years and want their offspring to succeed them," Ghalioun said.
"This is a provocation to the people," added Ghalioun, who is of Syrian origin and a professor of political sociology.
In the words of the Democracy Index 2010 published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in London, "the Middle East and North Africa remains the most repressive region in the world with 16 out of 20 countries in the region categorised as authoritarian."
Among Arab governments, Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority were classified as "hybrid regimes," which combine elements of democracy and non-democracy -- and all Arab countries ranked in the second half of the EIU's league table of 167 countries worldwide.
"There is a moral reference point in these revolts, because they are (directed at) autocratic regimes that combine a patrimonial and dynastic character," said Ghassan Salame, a political science professor in Paris and specialist in Arab affairs.
While the Arab world has been familiar with tyranny since decolonisation in the 20th century, there has been a disastrous evolution over the past 30 years, Salame said.
"Bourguiba and Boumedienne led austere lives and did not regard the state as their property," he said. The father of Tunisian independence, Habib Bourguiba, ruled for 30 years from 1957, and Houari Boumedienne ruled Algeria from 1965 to 1978.
"It is since the 1970s that these regimes began to embrace neo-liberalism for profit, establishing corrupt governments that took over entire sectors of the economy and left nothing for the very poorest," Salame added.
"A refusal to see a rich minority in power while the rest live in poverty, coupled with restrictions on freedom of speech, are the reasons behind the revolt," he said.
"Arab societies were ready to explode for many years, and it is just by chance that the spark began in Tunisia and now in Egypt," said Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
"What is remarkable about what happened in Tunisia and now in Egypt is that these are two revolts whose only real slogans are human rights, citizen rights, democracy and social and economic justice," Salem said.
"What is bringing thousands of people to act is a democratic agenda, it is not ideological," he added.
In the closed societies where they operate, assessing the wealth of Arab leaders in countries that have emerged as dynastic republics has been well-nigh impossible.
Bashar al-Assad became Syria's president after his father's death in 2000, Egypt's leader Hosni Mubarak is widely believed to have been grooming his son Gamal to do the same, and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen has been suspected of harbouring similar ambitions for his son, Ahmad.
"What is remarkable is that in the past 30 years it seems that the only real opposition to the authoritarian regimes were Islamic movements. But in fact, citizens' movements in Tunisia and now Egypt have managed to do in a few days or weeks what Islamic movements have failed to achieve in decades," Salem said.
"This has shown that democracy now has a more powerful resonance than Islamism, Arab nationalism and leftist ideas."

Monday, January 31st 2011
Sammy Ketz

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