Friday, March 11, 2011

The ethnic side of the Arab revolutions

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were rather straightforward but nearly all the remaining protests in the Arab world seem to be complicated by ethnic factors. An overview:

- Gadhaffi suddenly got his act together when his hometown Sirte was threatened. It is difficult to discern what is going on in his entourage. But it is well known that people from his own tribe are strongly overrepresented in the most powerful parts of the army. It looks like they felt threatened by this development. In that light I think we should take Gadhaffi's demand for negotiations serious and not aim for a solution where he and (more importantly) his tribe lose everything. Gadhaffi has repeatedly accused the West of wanting to split up Libya - one more sign he is acutely aware of the ethnic element. This offers hope that he might be open to some kind of compromise. As the Balkans showed creating winners and losers is a sure way to deteriorate an ethnic conflict - specially when the intended losers are well armed.

- Bahrain is divided between a majority Shiite population and a Sunnite ruler and elite. The US refuses to support the population out of fear of enabling Iranian influence and Saudi has made threatening sounds too and may invade if a Shiite takeover happens. Given these circumstances a kind of Finlandization would seem the logical solution. The Shiites would get an end to their discrimination (at least most of it) and would gain some political influence while the Sunnite rulers stay on with some decreased power.

- Yemen too is divided amongst many tribes who haven't formed a united front yet. It looks like the outsiders that matter (the US and Saudi Arabia) are happy to let this situation linger for a long time.

To summarize: it looks like the easy revolutions are over and we now are facing complicated ethnic puzzles.

1 comment:

Sammie said...

Even Egypt, which is ethnically homogeneous, could face similar problems, only then it is the coptic minority being harrassed by the muslim majority. A coptic person i spoke the other day has no optimism and the casualties of the last few days seem to confirm that. He also regards the news during the protests that christians guarded the muslims during fridayprayer and vice versa on sunday, even if this has happened, as mere propaganda.
That the minorty is scattered across the country makes the problem worse. Given that, apart possibly for freedom of speech, there is no easy solution to any of the current problems, i fear that sooner or later "the shit will hit the fan"