Egypt: The Herald of Neo-Liberalism in the Arab World?
A lot has happened in Egypt in very little time. Hosni Mubarak has attempted time and time again to equivocate some manner of grasping onto power just that little bit longer, like a hobo and his crackpipe, which has resulted in firm rebuffs from a young Egyptian population sick of dictatorial rule. There have been deaths, naturally, and there was a fear that the revolution would not be televised, but none of this has dissuaded the common mistrust for anything tainted by the touch of Mubarak. The anarchists must be squealing with delight…
…But lessons we could learn from Egypt are still premature. The situation is fluid and a lot can change very quickly, and anarchic rule is almost certainly a childish fantasy right now. Attempting to divine what the long term international relations impact of this would be foolish right now, as it’s quite simply too early to tell. Once the dust has literally settled, IR pundits can start stroking their crystal balls and making grand prophecies of sweeping reform across the Middle East.
And perhaps there is a grain of truth to this. What we have seen are a slew of largely-authoritarian, hardliner Arab states being subjected to everything from mild protest to outright revolution in the hundreds of thousands. But the one major pattern we can definitely see is a strong urge by Arab citizens towards democratic political systems.
One tenet of neo-liberalism recommends the geographical and actual spread of democratic principles, economic, political and social (probably in that order too), and there is a grain of this occurring in the region at the moment.
They want the vote, they want fixed terms on their leaders, they want freedom of speech. Previously in the Arab world these things generally only existed in the strangest of places such as, ironically, Israel and a newly-liberated Iraq. But with Tunisia opening the floodgates, there is a strong desire, or at least the atmosphere of it, for democratic reforms. Syria has promised some minor improvements already, Jordan is doing its crazy best when considering that criticism of the King is illegal, and thus focus on the government, and Egypt pretty much speaks for itself.
One tenet of neo-liberalism recommends the geographical and actual spread of democratic principles, economic, political and social (probably in that order too), and there is a grain of this occurring in the region at the moment. Sure, communists, anarchists and radical islamists would probably see this revolutionary wave as a springboard for something more ambitious in terms of their chosen ideological flavour, but I have to wonder if a newly-energised Arab public would accept that.
Regardless of actual democratic reforms, what is crucial to take from this so early on is that a dialogue has been created on a regional front, for the first time in, well, ever in the Arab context. Like the neo-liberalist champion Fukuyama espoused, once that can of democratic worms is released, once a dialogue has started, it becomes incredibly difficult to shut it out again.
2011’s spate of revolutions in the Arab world may just end in wanton bloodshed and harsher repression, but the simple truth that the common people have been able to maintain this wave of desire for reform cannot be forgotten. Regardless of the outcomes in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and who knows where else, the spirit of democratisation will have taken root. That in itself is a slow poison for dictators, and something worth noting as this all unfolds.