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The Middle East in 2011

By Ahmed Kadry CAIRO: As we near the end of 2011, you could be forgiven for taking a long deep breath and letting out 365 days of revolution, jubilation, turbulence, tragedy and uncertainty. It all started on January 1 when a terrorist bombing on Alexandria’s Saints Church tragically took the lives of 23 Egyptians. It was …

By Ahmed Kadry

CAIRO: As we near the end of 2011, you could be forgiven for taking a long deep breath and letting out 365 days of revolution, jubilation, turbulence, tragedy and uncertainty.

It all started on January 1 when a terrorist bombing on Alexandria’s Saints Church tragically took the lives of 23 Egyptians. It was the largest attack on the Coptic Christian community in Egypt for over a decade and both the timing and location of the attack caused outrage among Egyptian Copts and Muslims alike.

Egypt was not the only place in the Middle East that started the New Year with shocking events. Across the border, neighboring Tunisia was having an uprising against their long time ruler, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Little did we know that this uprising would turn into a revolutionary spark that would inflame the entire region and introduce the world to the Arab Spring.

Before anyone could catch their breath from the Alexandria bombings and Ben Ali’s resignation and escape to Saudi Arabia, January 25 was upon us.

What started out as the normal annual national holiday for police officers across the country, protestors belonging to a number of small opposition parties began to take to the streets to speak out against police oppression and excessive force over citizens, most notably citing the brutal death of Khaled Saeid at the hands of police officers on June 6, 2010.

Contrary to popular belief, Egyptians had been gathering and protesting, albeit in small numbers, for the past five years against Hosni Mubarak and his regime with little or no success.

The huge protests on Jan. 25 were a prelude to the explosive events that took place three days later, on Jan. 28, when thousands marched towards Tahrir Square and other main squares around the country in a united belief that if 10 million Tunisians can overthrow their hated president, then so can 80 million Egyptians who had endured a harsh and unjust ruler for over thirty years.

It was soon obvious that 2011 had not just taken Arab citizens by surprise. Global leaders watched from their television screens as the citizens of Arab lands took matters into their own hands and challenged the unchecked power of quasi- monarchs who had long been supported by the so-called supporters and policemen of democracy.

Obama, Clinton, Cameron and Co. made speech after speech declaring their support for democracy in the Middle East while behind doors were uneasy at having to start new relationships with governments who were not interested in personal wealth but in ensuring the best for their country.

The world stood and watched as Egyptians protested day after day, ignoring national curfews, police brutality, thugs hired by the government to cause panic in homes and were not swayed by empty promises made by those who had built careers by deceit.

The evening of Friday, February 11 will long remain in the memory of Egyptians who fought for 18 days, committed and resolute until their demands were met. That night, in perhaps the most anti-climactic television broadcast ever seen, newly-appointed Vice President Omar Suliman announced in 90 seconds that Mubarak had handed over power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, loved by the people at that point, until democratic elections take place.

You could have been forgiven for thinking that 2011 would quiet down and take stock of what happened. But it was not to be. Five days into the post-Mubarak era, another of Egypt’s neighbors, Libya, was beginning its own revolution. It was almost comical to watch Al Jazeera reporters who had been at Tahrir Square or in Alexandria for almost a month, now reporting from Benghazi or Tripoli repeating the same script but just changing the character names. Revolution was clearly good for business and Al Jazeera, along with the other heavyweight broadcasters, followed the trail of history in the making.

If you blinked you would have missed it. 2011 had grown in confidence and decided it could multi-task. Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, along with Libya, were all having protests around their respective countries and one could have been forgiven for confusing dictators’ names and keeping track of UN resolutions and NATO intervention.

Fast forward to winter and things have become both clearer and more complicated. Tunisia successfully held democratic elections and looks to be the most likely of the Arab Spring nations to successfully transition to democracy without further bloodshed.

The enigmatic Libyan leader, Muamar Qaddafi was captured and killed, sparking mass jubilation and celebration around the country. People around the world may have wished that Qaddafi be put to trial for his numerous atrocities and crimes against humanity, but for Libyans it was simple: He was dead and they could move forward in securing a free and progressive Libya. This does not change the fact that uncertainty remains on how this will be achieved and what democratic models Libyan politicians and citizens will adopt.

Internal and international pressure is increasing on Syrian president, Bashar Al-Assad, to immediately stop his violent crackdown on opposition protestors, yet he remains defiant in upholding the iron grip on a nation that was handed down to him by his father.

The biggest area of uncertainty lies within the country that kicked things off for us on New Year’s Day: Egypt. The months of jubilation following Mubarak’s resignation seem a very long time ago and have been replaced by a four letter acronym: SCAF.

The once-beloved armed forces of Egypt that has a sentimental history for Egyptians now represents the symbol of Egyptian enmity. They represented the protectors of the revolution and the buffer between dictatorship and democracy. But in the cold nights of winter it has become clear that the battle for democracy in Egypt is still in its infancy. SCAF clearly wants to hold onto their conventional position of autonomy and are unwilling to hand over power to the people who could in turn water down their role in the “New” Egypt. Worse still, they employ the same aggressive and violent tactics to hold onto power as their former boss, Mubarak.
Friday after Friday, Egyptians, along with their Syrian, Bahraini and Yemini neighbors are still fighting for a cause, a cause which many Egyptians believed they achieved on February 11 but were sadly mistaken.

2012 is upon us and only a brave man would care to predict what is in store for the Arab world. But one thing is clear. 2011 will long resonate in our memories and has guaranteed its etching into the history books. 2012 is the next chapter where many of the questions asked in 2011 will have to be answered, one way or the other.


Topics: Ahmed Kadry

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