Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tunisia’s Worrying Precedent: Arab Rulers Fear Spread of Democracy Fever

By Clemens Höges, Bernhard Zand and Helene Zuber,

Spiegel Online,  Jan 25, 2011

A man attempts to set himself on fire in Cairo: The self-immolation that set off the protests that toppled Tunisia's leader has inspired copycats in other North African states.
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A man attempts to set himself on fire in Cairo: The self-immolation that set off the protests that toppled Tunisia’s leader has inspired copycats in other North African states.

In the wake of Tunisia’s mostly peaceful revolution, Arab leaders are worried that their young, frustrated populations might follow suit. While the West sits back and watches, regimes stress stability over genuine democracy and hope to calm simmering discontent with cash.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom don’t have all that much in common, but they do share one thing: Neither thinks much of the revolution in Tunisia.

“I fear that we now stand before a new and very critical phase in the Arab world,” Shalom, who was himself born in Tunisia in 1958, said in an interview aired on Israeli radio on Jan. 14. Israel and the majority of its Arab neighbors now agree on the importance of fighting Islamic fundamentalism, Shalom said. His concern lies with what might happen if Arab states start becoming democratic. He fears Tunisia might “set a precedent that could be repeated in other countries, possibly affecting directly the stability of our system.” If democratic governments take over Israel’s neighboring states, the vice prime minister said, the days of the Arab-Israeli security alliance will be over.

Gadhafi also complained that he was “very pained” to see his friend Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime collapse and Tunisia descend into fear and insecurity. “What is this for?” he asked. “To change Zine El Abidine? Hasn’t he told you he would step down after three years? Be patient for three years and your son stays alive.”

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