Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Democracy in the Arab world

Via Matt Laur (HIST 3805's "History Nerd"), an opinion piece by ex-ambassador Jeremy Kinsman:
Almost invariably in these cases, who prevails depends on the role of the army.
The army's refusal to fire on demonstrators in Kiev in the Orange Revolution (2004) was decisive, as it was in Tunisia and may prove to be the case in Egypt.

But at Tiananmen in 1989, as in Rangoon (2007) and Tehran (2009), the army and security forces acted with cruel brutality. In those places, the military's loyalty to the status quo was driven by its own self-interest in the existing regimes.

One of the factors that is often overlooked in these cases is the role played by military mentoring.
The Ukrainian officers on the Maidan in 2004 had been integrating into NATO programs for a decade and knew that the correct role of the military in a democracy was to protect all the people.

In the case of Egypt, its military has extremely close ties with its U.S. counterparts and which are bound up in the $38 billion of military aid Egypt has received from Washington since 1978, when the Camp David Accords were signed.

In fact, the Egyptian chief of defence staff was on a regular consultation in Washington just two weeks ago, as this latest drama was beginning to unfold.

No one is claiming the U.S. military could order the viscerally nationalistic Egyptian army to refuse to obey if Mubarak ordered the use of force against the protestors.

But after years of beneficial ties with an American military whose all-out support for anti-Communist dictators is long behind it, Egypt's military leaders would have known right from wrong.
...Another lesson from these events is that for a massive popular protest to succeed, it must be non-violent.

Violence scares off the wide swath of solid citizens and generally brings the army in on the side of shutting down the show.

In these situations, desperate authoritarian regimes often try to foment violence, through the use of agents provocateurs, to stimulate a backlash and justify repressing the protests.

We saw some evidence of that last week in Egypt, but this time the opposition was ready.
Ready, because for years now Egyptian activists have been attending workshops on non-violent discipline sponsored by international human rights groups; and conducted by such stalwarts as Saad Ibrahim, who was himself jailed and tortured in Egyptian prisons after having run against Mubarak a decade ago.
Image:  another good catch by Matt.

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