Links 20 January 2011

Do read The Economist's take on Tunisia in this week's magazine, which ends in one intriguing conclusion:

Many of the region’s countries look, on the surface, to be far more fragile than Tunisia, with equal volumes of anger and far deeper social woes. But different factors serve to bolster even unpopular governments. In Syria the ever-present danger of war with Israel mutes dissent. The Egyptian state, despite its appalling record in running other things, wields a large force of riot police that is well equipped, highly trained and very experienced, and so less likely to provoke outrage by excessive violence. Egypt also has a relatively free press. This not only gives healthy air to protest, but acts as the sort of early-warning system that Mr Ben Ali, due to his own repressive tactics, sorely lacked.

There is another way in which Tunisia’s experience could prove subtly inspiring. “The one constant in revolutions is the primordial role played by the army,” said Jean Tulard, a French historian of revolutions, in an interview in Le Monde. So far Tunisia’s army, kept small to forestall coup attempts, has won kudos for holding the fort, and not playing politics. Yet it is the army which is believed to have persuaded Mr Ben Ali to leave. Perhaps a few generals elsewhere in the Arab world are thinking that they, too, might better serve their countries by doing something similar.

  • Heykal: "There’s a lot more to Yemen than terrorism. That focus distorts things and is quite dangerous. We’re led to believe the only way to deal with Yemen is to bomb it, occupy it militarily or throw money at it."
  • There goes Jackson Diehl again - even when he has a point, he writes as if Obama specifically is the problem, as opposed to longstanding US policy and the entire foreign policy establishment's approach. And that is disingenuous.
  • Piece says Gamal must reposition himself as a populist to succeed his father. I'm not sure he's even capable of that, which is actually one good thing one might say about him. He'd do better if he could deliver better quality of life without resorting to populism.
  • A critique of Tunisian trade unions' pullout of the new government.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.