Tuesday, January 25, 2011

could ripple protests topple u.s. allies?


CNN | The big regional lesson of Tunisia, according to Houdaiby, is that people have learnt they can bring about change themselves.

"What happened in Tunisia will of course impact the way people think. They know if they want things to change, at one point they will be able to change things"

But he adds Mubarak's regime has also learnt lessons, offering to subsidize bread and other essentials, albeit Houdaiby suspects, only until the current crisis seems over.

No doubt though, he says, the government's vehement denials ironically show how troubled it is by the Tunisian revolt.

"When you have the minister of foreign affairs saying that Tunisia could not be compared with Egypt and the situation is completely different and it is ridiculous that people are making any sort of comparison that says that they are worried."

And if they are worried in Egypt, with its large, tough state security forces, then other regional leaders may well be troubled too, warns El-Erian, spokesman for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. "If Egypt tumbles then watch the region follow, if change comes in Egypt, not in Tunisia, it will be domino sequences."

Indeed in the long run the United States may be the big loser. Many of the regimes on the defensive, like Mubarak's, are long-standing US allies.

And that says El-Erian -- who calculates that in a democratic Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood would have a large say -- could have serious implications for the United States.

"We are reflecting the opinion of the people and opinion and sentiments here are against the politics and policies of the United States in the region," he said.

It may sound like a bold statement, but on the streets of Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt to name but a few, U.S. credibility has taken a hammering over the past decade.

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have only served to fuel popular anger with the U.S. over the regional autocrats they support.

The implication is if the winds of change do blow down one or two of the region's rulers the political voices emerging may well bring a new dynamic to such intractable problems as Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

That alone could reset the region in a way unimaginable today.