Food and oil prices have sparked unrest across North Africa. The Tunisian Government has fallen. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak has declared martial law. In Cairo, thousands of protesters shook hands with the soldiers, and chanted: “The army and the people are united” and “The revolution has come.”* Yup. Mubarak’s screwed.
Dictatorships rely on their security apparatus being willing to put down unrest harshly. If parts of the security forces start to side with the protesters, the dictator is done for.
Ukraine’s Orange Revolution nearly became a bloodbath with 10,000 Internal Ministry troops mobilised to re-take Independence Square in Kiev from the protesters. The revolution was saved when the heads of Military Intelligence and the Secret Police warned the Internal Ministry commander that they had troops in place to protect the protesters. Serbia’s ‘Bulldozer Revolution’ only succeeded because the army refused to crush it and ended its support for Slobodan Milošević.
So, when the reports from Egypt are of soldiers refusing to fire on the protesters, you know it’s only a matter of time until they turn their guns on the Mubarak loyalist police.
The US is worried that if their old ally goes the Muslim Brotherhood is the only organisation ready to step into the void. It’s their own fault. Mubarak’s regime is the second largest aid recipient in the world after Israel. As with Israel, it’s nearly all military aid. The US has spent around $60 billion on propping him up, allowing him to eliminate the secular left-wing opposition. Only the Islamists are left. Let’s hope they honour their commitment to free and fair elections.
This could be the beginning of an extraordinary period of change across North Africa and the Middle East. Protests are building in Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Oman, and Jordan. there was even a tiny protest in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
Bush’s wars failed to spread regime change. But oil and food price protests, security forces that refuse to fire, and Tunisia’s proof that change is possible just might be enough to knock over these crumbling autocrats.
PS. Al Masrya Al Youm, the largest private newspaper in Egypt, has pictures of burning police cars and ‘tips on staying safe at protests‘ – got to love the 21st century. It also reports, with understated symbolism, that tear gas used by the Police is past its use by date … and made in the USA.