Asian Conversations - an online magazine to explore Asia's future

A khamsin in the desert

1 MARCH, 2011: The spontaneous mass democratic protests throughout the Arab world promoted largely through online social media and mobile communication have left the future of the Middle East uncertain at best. Mohamed El Dahshan writing in the New York Times believes while the immediate focus in Egypt was to oust Hosni Mubarak, little thought was given to the post-Mubarak era. “We are looking at an indefinite period of military rule,” he writes, “…effectively sidelined from the decision making process.” Writing in The Inquirer, Dave Clark adds: “People are anxiously waiting to see if they [the military] will make good on their promise to respect the popular will”.

Commenting in Time Magazine, Michael Elliott argues that, “Organized and brave the young people who have driven change may be, but a crowd in Tahrir Square cannot govern Egypt, nor can a Facebook page or Twitter account.”

Elliott’s argument is being put to the test in Palestine where Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has looked to social media as a means of implementing a more transparent form of democracy. The People's Daily from China extensively quotes the Fayyad stratagem of creating a page on Facebook where he has asked young Palestinians for their views on the formation of the new government and choice of cabinet ministers.

In terms of the impact on the West, Jonas Gahr Store in the New York Times puts it thus: “I often run into a widely accepted Western narrative: that all bottom-up movements in Arab countries will lead to radical Islamist regimes…It has encouraged us to view all popular movements in the Arab world, secular or Islamic, as dangerous windows to militant Islam. It leads us to think that authoritarian leaders may be the lesser of two evils.”

Daniel Korski and Ben Judah argue in the Khaleej Times that Western policy towards the Middle East is flawed and in need of recalibration: “Hosni Mubarak was the lynchpin of the West’s policy: he was uncompromising with potential US enemies; he could be relied upon to appear at peace talks with the Israelis; and he could be used to add weight to the American position on Iran. Now the US-Egyptian alliance is under threat, and with it American policy for the entire Middle East.”

Furthermore, as China, India, and other developing powers in Asia become large importers of Middle Eastern oil, the significance and power of the US in the Gulf as a trading partner is decreasing.

Writing in The Guardian, Meir Javedanfar ponders the future of Iran, where demonstrations have surprised Iranian leaders. Protests have been dealt with ferociously, with reported beatings, arrests, and more deaths. Javedanfar comments, “In 1978, strikes in the Abadan refinery were instrumental in bringing down the shah. Should current strikes there continue unabated, it could lead to serious cracks in the foundations of the Islamic Republic”.

Pakistani newspaper Dawn writes, “Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain may differ in terms of the internal make-up of their respective regimes and the level of their individual socio-economic development, but what is common to them is the perpetuation of systems that have denied even a modicum of freedom to their people”. Only time will tell how the popular voice will help shape Arab and North African nations and the ultimate impact on Asia and the West. – Kanishk Verghese