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Arab Agony

by David Pryce-Jones

What the Egyptian unrest says about, and portends for, the region

Upheaval is shaking the Arab world. Countries there are alike in being under one-man rule, and this authoritarianism is being tested to destruction. The outcome might be political reform and peace, but it could as well be another round of tyranny and war.
The current demonstrations are under one-man rule what a vote of no confidence is in a parliamentary democracy. The people confront their rulers with a choice: either to flee the country in ignominy, or to resist, call out the security forces and the army, and if need arises, order them to regain control by opening fire on the crowds. Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, president of Tunisia these last 23 years, threw his hand in and flew shame-faced to Saudi Arabia, the refuge of Muslim dictators. In a last-minute heist, he took a ton and a half of gold from the national treasury.

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, president these 30 years, in contrast is daring the crowds to do their worst, although at press time he has said he will not seek another term of office in September. Force is the motor of these politics. To date, as many as 300 people have been killed, more than 1,000 injured, and some 3,000 arrested. Should the army refuse to resort to strong-arm methods, Mubarak too will have to flee.

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