On April 10, as part of South Asian Middle Eastern Asian Pacific Islander (SAMEAPI) Awareness Now!, the Muslim Student Alliance hosted a panel about the Arab Spring, the wave of revolutionary uprisings in the Arab world beginning in 2010. Guest speakers included Laila El-Sissi, author of Out of Alexandria, Fred Lawson, professor and department head of government at Mills, and Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, assistant professor of politics at the University of San Francisco.
Panelists discussed the movements happening in the Middle East, the necessary steps for the transition to democracy to occur and the larger implications surrounding the violent events in Syria.
The evening began with a brief look at the developments in Egypt. Although the people of Egypt overthrew the president, the government never actually changed. The country was turned over to the Armed Forces of Egypt and progress was slow.
While the people were protesting in the streets, a dark entity was rising in the background.
“We were not paying attention to who was planting the flag,” said El-Sissi. out of context – what does this mean? at the april 10 event?
With the president out of power, the Muslim Brotherhood moved in and used religion to buy votes. This plan worked and the Brotherhood took 72% of the vote under the pretense of saving souls.
Once the Muslim Brotherhood took control of parliament they immediately began shaping a constitution to control citizens. These new laws were focused largely on constricting women’s rights.
Many of the new laws were created by a woman who was a member of the Brotherhood. She proposed laws that would give men the right to rape women, beat their wives and children, and marry another woman without their wife’s permission.
Everything was rushed and left citizens struggling to understand the changes that were being made. Fortunately, the Supreme Court ruled the constitution invalid.
It’s going to take many years before any positive change in Egypt will occur. The movement is far from over. Like Rome, democracy cannot be built in a day.
The next hurdle Egyptians face is monetary.
“In three months there will be no monies in Egypt,” El-Sissi said at the April 10 event. Only time will tell how this new problem will be addressed.
In 2002, Kenya peacefully voted President Moi out of office after 24 years of running the country, but ran into some of the same problems Egypt faced.
Once the president was out of power there was no one left to keep the new government in check. If the fundamental institutions that caused the problems are not broken up, said Rutenberg, then the people are not truly liberated. A new constitution with a system of checks and balances must be written, otherwise nothing will change.
According to Lawson, what sets Syria apart is the government’s excessive use of force to deal with protesters from the very beginning of the uprising. There was no gradual shift from police to military; the Syrian regime sent in its combat army first.
Although Syria survived the global economic crisis of 2008, the country could not avoid the people’s frustration with the government’s corruption. On March 15, 2011 a “Day of Dignity” protest was held in Damascus demanding the release of political prisoners. What began as a peaceful demonstration quickly spiraled out of control.
Despite the regime’s efforts to squash protesters, the people only became more resolute when they discovered footage of 13-year-old Hamaz al-Khateeb being tortured by security services on April 28, 2011.
By the end of July 2011 soldiers began to defect and aid the opposition by providing them with fire power. The government then responded with unconstrained force. The regime’s reasoning behind this was that concessions prompted higher and higher demands, and the opposition would never be happy.
To make matters worse the opposition is split and has no clear leadership, has no safe base and no large scale labor movement to support it.
There is currently a cease fire in effect which was brokered by United Nations Spokesman Kofi Annan. However the regime has not withdrawn troops. It is important to note that up until the deadline, the regime violently attacked the opposition and even killed those trying to cross the border to safety.
Syria’s fate stands upon the edge of a knife, stray but a little and all hope for peace is lost.
Civil war in Syria has global consequences, which is why world leaders are scrambling to come up with a solution fast.
One of the underlying forces behind the civil unrest in Syria is the severe lack of water. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the Middle East is losing water at an alarming rate. If a full scale war breaks out, remaining water sources will be taxed beyond their limits raising a terrifying question: What happens when the water runs out?
Another reason we should be concerned about Syria is because it is the core of the Middle East. If it falls into conflict, there is a chance that violence will spill over into neighboring countries, putting countless lives at risk.
Other factors to consider are oil prices, terrorist strong holds in the area such as Al-Qaeda and the economy.
By looking at the larger global urge that spurred movements like the Arab Springs and Occupy Wall Street, we can help Syria’s transition to democracy.
In order to help Syria, we need to explore three questions that Rutenberg finds critical:
-Is demilitarization possible?
-How will democracy be domesticated?
-How will pro-democracies deal with the question of the other?
Once these questions are answered, the path to democracy becomes a little easier for Syria to walk.
We should not, and cannot ignore what is happening around us. What happens in Syria will impact us. It’s a small world after all.