By Gavin M. Greenwood, Asia Sentinel
The impact of the drama spreading from North Africa into the Levant and Arabia is being carefully tracked and assessed by governments across the region, their foreign patrons and creditors.
For authoritarian regimes and their subject populations, the often inchoate courage displayed on the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen may be respectively deeply troubling and dangerously tempting.
Asia’s experience with popular uprising, as opposed to slow-burning revolutions, anti-colonial campaigns and civil wars, is limited to the Philippines – where the very term ‘people power’ was coined – and the simmering and multi-layered response to the elite’s disdain for the electoral franchise in Thailand. For regimes that rely on the protection of hard and soft power, reward and condign penalties for transgressors, the failure of these blandishments and threats to maintain the status quo in key Middle East countries will be viewed with a mixture of incredulity and rapid reassessment of policies and loyalties.
What will shock any authoritarian power is the speed with which critical mass can confront and then brush aside a deeply embedded security apparatus, destroying its carefully constructed image of invulnerability from sanction and the sense that the individual citizen is held under constant scrutiny.
While Eastern Europe experienced this epiphany – complete with the stark images of the hurried slaughter of the Ceauşescus on Christmas Day 1989, an event until the present upheaval that must have served as the model bad ending for many totalitarian leaders – few other countries similarly afflicted with regimes that view their own people with fear, suspicion and contempt have failed to do so.
The fate of the besieged political elites in Cairo, Amman and Sana’a will obviously exercise the greatest influence on others who fear the uncontrolled manifestation of popular anger may pose even a distant threat to their – or their successors – status and privileges. This gives the strategies now being employed by Middle East governments seeking to retain collective power and authority a universal significance.