[Letters] A perfect storm in North Africa

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[Letters] A perfect storm in North Africa

Mass street protests in Tunisia and Egypt have swept away two leaders who have been firmly in the saddle of power. With modern communications, the whole planet has watched the events unfold minute by minute, as Ben Ali fled Tunisia to seek asylum in Saudi Arabia and Mubarak abandoned his presidential palace in Cairo for his summer residence in Sharm el Sheik. 

I said to myself, when I learned of Mubarak’s resignation, that it was like the scenario from the film “A Perfect Storm,” starring George Clooney.

After the fall of Ben Ali, who is now seriously ill in Saudi Arabia, political commentators around the world started drawing up the list of North African and Arab countries likely to be affected by the strong winds of change and spoke of the domino effect. Today it comes as no surprise to see images on the television of street protests and growing social and political unrest in Bahrain, Libya, Algeria, Yemen and Iran. 

What is the common thread in these mass demonstrations? Is it a call for regime change? We know from history that autocratic leaders do not like to share power. 

They tend to crush all forms of opposition and do whatever it takes to remain in power until the last breath. Families and friends associated with the leaders of ruling parties amassed fortunes over the years, creating a society in which the haves have more and the have nots have nothing. 

Such a situation gives rise to several social monsters such as corruption, poverty, unemployment, inflation and poor governance. It is precisely these monsters the population wanted to display and kill with vehemence during their mass street demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt. Have they been successful? 

Yes, to a certain extent, by getting rid of the leaders and allowing people to express themselves. 

But getting rid of the evils will take a longer time. Tunisia and Egypt are right now working on new constitutions that will hopefully pave the way to democratic elections. It is only after the elections that we will know what kind of government will emerge and what its policies will be.

No one would like to see a chaotic situation develop from the street revolution. It is the duty of the interim governments to protect the fabric of society, and more importantly, prepare for reforms. Otherwise, the present euphoria may be followed by long-term suffering. 

My father once told me that when he was at the State Department in Washington way back in 1977, the representative of Afghanistan, praising the ousting of King Mohammed Zahir Shah a few years back, told the Moroccan delegate in his presence, “See, the people of Afghanistan have got rid of the king, a despot. We are no longer a kingdom. Why don’t you do the same with your King in Morocco?” 

Reform is an ongoing process. It should be dynamic and should address the fundamentals of our society in terms of political and social stability to ensure economic prosperity for the entire population. But who decides on the pace of reforms? Should the streets dictate the pace or should it not be the sacred duty of the government? 

One can only hope that the governments of various nations across the globe draw appropriate lessons from all these events. They should show the courage and the wisdom to take bold decisions in a timely and efficient manner or else the existing monsters will continue to grow and the ‘domino effect’ of North Africa will take new meaning. 

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.  

Dhiren Ponnusamy
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