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This article was originally published in November 2011 in the Vibe

The Arab Spring was out in full force in London on the last weekend of November. The flags of Arab nations waved outside of embassies; angry Syrians, Egyptians and Bahrainis shouting in solidarity with their brethren back home. I went down on Saturday to stand in the cold with some of these demonstrators and to see how their own little wars in this affluent corner of London reflected the wider struggles in the Middle East.

First stop was the Egyptians. Just south of the Americans’ imposing behemoth on Grosvenor Square, the Egyptian embassy is tucked away down a small road, housed in an unassuming white building. Even from only a block away, the protest sounded quiet. The narrow streets contained the noise, preventing the sound of guttural Arabic slogans from escaping the tightly confined protest area. But it made it all the more impressive once you had reached the fenced-in group of demonstrators.

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This article was originally published in October 2011 in The Vibe

Triumphantly touring post-revolution Arab countries, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stepped off his plane in Cairo to be met by droves of cheering Egyptians. Time magazine reported that he was “greeted like a rock star”. The purpose of the visits was clear: to solidify Turkey’s role as one of the region’s key players. After a century looking west towards Europe, forcefully changing society and politics with the desperate aim of joining the European Union, Turkish foreign policy priorities would now appear to lie east and south of its borders.

Turkey has found itself managing crisis and conflict throughout the region, despite its long serving policy of “zero problems with the neighbours”. While Arab governments have publicly welcomed resurgent Turkish interest in the region they will also undoubtedly be anxious to ensure it doesn’t become too overbearing.

Take Turkey’s role in the Israel-Palestine arena. While it has long played the role of impartial negotiator, deliberately set back from the often-impassioned rhetoric and diplomatic tit-for-tat, relations with Israel have taken a nose dive (of late) lately. Much of this has been a calculated and deliberate political manoeuvre. Erdogan is effectively commandeering the Arab Spring, steering the Middle East’s fledgling democracies in a distinctly Turkey oriented direction.

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It’s hard not to make comparisons. After all, the Syrian uprising drew its initial inspiration from Tunisia and Libya. The boys who graffitied ‘the people want the downfall of the regime’ 5 months ago in Der’aa had undoubtedly heard the phrase from television coverage of those two other more successful revolutions.

But the Syrian uprising will not end as easily as the Tunisian and Egyptian ones. The security apparatus has not, and will not, crumble in the face of mass civil disobedience, as in Tunisia. And the military certainly won’t discard decades of loyalty and back the opposition overnight as happened in Egypt. No, the Syrian awakening will more closely resemble Yemen. Months of protests and countless dead were not enough to oust the stubborn president. In the end it required a random and violent response. An RPG attack on the presidential motorcade, serious burn and shrapnel injuries, and Saleh is eventually forced to leave Yemeni territory for treatment in Saudi Arabia. He vowed to return after he recovered but is still moping around the Kingdom.

However, the Syrian opposition should not be encouraged by the Yemeni model. Instead it should be a warning. Despite widespread calls for his departure, Saleh clung on to power, resorting to brutal violence to quell the dissent. Even when thousands lined the streets of Sanaa and influential generals and tribal leaders declared their support for the protestors, the president stalled, promising to step down some time later.

If we had to compare Syria to another Arab country experiencing its own awakening, then Libya would be the closest example, which experienced a fissure in the military and a cleaving of the country in half. But even there the comparison falls short. There will be no dramatic climax, no mass defections. The military command – Alawites and Assad loyalists – will not be abandoning their leader any time soon. Instead, Syria will experience a gentle trickle of disaffected soldiers and officers, who are either sickened by the government’s brutal response or angered by orders to shoot their fellow soldiers. Civil war is a very real outcome for the Syrian uprising but the build up to it will not be fast or straightforward.

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