Middle East Features
Unrest puts Arab rulers under pressure (News Feature)
By Anne-Beatrice Clasmann Jan 14, 2011, 13:30 GMT
Amman/Istanbul - Arab regimes have all come to terms in the same way with radical Islamists - police states strangle militant groups whilst at the same time the regimes tolerate growing public piety.
But there seems to be no pat answer to the rage of frustrated young people who have taken to the streets in Tunis, Algiers, Cairo and Amman.
On Friday outraged protesters rallied outside the interior ministry in Tunis - a symbol of the police state.
In Jordan on Friday several thousand people protested against the government, despite the fact that the government earlier this week adopted measures to ease price hikes which had spawned an initial wave of protests.
The demonstrators demanded the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Samir Rifai. On Thursday he had declared, 'We respect the right of the people to express their views within the framework of the law, and we understand that they suffer from economic hardship.'
At the same time, he warned, 'We shall uphold the interests of our nation and our people, defending them against anyone who seeks to exploit the situation in order to damage public or private property.'
The protesters, most from low-income classes who gather in front of mosques, are not members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood which has joined with trade unions in calling for protests Sunday demanding political reforms.
The social unrest and spontaneous protests of recent weeks unsettle not only the rulers themselves, but also Europeans because growing unemployment and corruption in countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean cause increasing numbers of young Arabs to seek their fortunes as illegal immigrants in Spain, Italy, Germany and Belgium.
Ironically, the Tunisians are the ones who took to the streets first. For 20 years, the Tunisians were more peaceful and unpolitical than many other peoples in the Arab world.
But just days after the first violent protests in Tunisia, young people took to the streets in Algeria. Their protest did not ebb until the Algerian government announced a massive reduction in food prices.
'The example of Tunisia has shown people everywhere that they can change things if they are better organised and become active - assuming they are prepared to pay the price,' a editorial writer for the independent Egyptian newspaper Al-Shorouk wrote Friday.
He added tongue-in-cheek that the knee-jerk response of Arab regimes, who blame all social unrest on Al-Qaeda, the Israeli Mossad, the CIA or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, ultimately is a cabaret farce.
For it must be said that Egypt and Jordan have problems similar to Tunisia and Algeria. Unemployment among young people is high. Prices for fuel and food are rising. Corruption and nepotism block the poverty-stricken sub-class from economic profit.
The difference is that young people in Tunisia and the Kingdom of Jordan are more articulate than their contemporaries in Egypt, who must bear the additional burden of a catastrophic educational system.
The Islamists are not the driving force this time. On the contrary, the Islamist political parties and the militant groups were caught off guard by the protests just as much as the ruling classes were.
Some of them have attempted in jump onto the band wagon - so far without much success.
'You have nothing to lose,' said an audio message attributed to Al-Qaeda and distributed to Islamic radical websites this week. 'Send us your sons so that we can teach them to how to use weapons. Then they can fight Zionists and Christians who are behind your corrupt rulers.'
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