Monday, March 28, 2011

Every tyrant makes the same mistake in the Arab uprisings

Patrick Cockburn, The Independent,  27 March 2011

The despots who have ruled the Arab world for half a century are not giving up without a fight. In the southern Syrian city of Dara, security forces last week machine-gunned pro-democracy protesters in a mosque, killing 44 of them, and then faked evidence to pretend they were a gang of kidnappers. In the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, a few days earlier, snipers firing from high buildings shot dead or wounded 300 people at a rally demanding the President step down.In Syria and Yemen, state-sponsored violence has proved counter-effective. Protesters were enraged rather than intimidated. A remarkable aspect of the Arab uprisings is that ruler after ruler is making the same mistakes that brought down Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Local tyrants, from Muammar Gaddafi in Libya to Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, behave as if they had joined a collective political suicide pact whereby they alternate mindless violence and inadequate concessions in just the right quantities to discredit themselves and undermine their regimes.  
Recipes for staying in power that have served them so well since the early 1970s suddenly don’t work any more. This affects almost all the Arab states, monarchies as well republics, since they have functioned in approximately the same way.

The typical Arab state was based, with some local variations, on a single model: a kleptomaniac elite, often originating in the army and united by sect, tribe or extended family, monopolises power at the top. The government is a corrupt and bloated patronage machine used to reward cronies and followers. The most animate part of the state is the Mukhabarat, as the security services are generally known, which crushes all forms of dissent.

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