Apr 142011


The Saudi regime is under siege. To the west, its heaviest regional ally, the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, has been ousted. To its north, Syria and Jordan are gripped by a wave of protests which shows no sign of receding. On its southern border, unrest in Yemen and Oman rages on. And troops have been dispatched to Bahrain to salvage its influence over the tiny kingdom exerted through the Khalifa clan, and prevent the contagion from spreading to Saudi Arabia’s turbulent eastern provinces, the repository of both its biggest oil reserves and largest Shia population.

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Mar 312011


Arab dictators were not the only ones to have been taken aback by the scale and speed of events in the region. Their allies were also caught off guard. The changes were simply “too much, too fast”, as a stunned US official put it. From being the sole actors and directors on the stage, Europe and the US, along with the various despots, found themselves suddenly reduced to mere spectators, and fearful of the future. Continue reading »

Mar 112011


Saida Sadouni does not conform to the typical image of an Arab revolutionary. But this 77-year-old camped out in the bitter Tunisian cold for more than two weeks in front of the prime minister’s headquarters, leading the historic Kasbah picket that succeeded in forcing Mohamed Ghannouchi’s interim government out of office. “I have resisted French occupation. I have resisted the dictatorships of Bourguiba and Ben Ali. I will not rest until our revolution meets its goals,” she told the thousands of fellow protesters who joined her. She is today widely hailed as the mother of Tunisia’s revolution, a living record of her country’s modern history and its struggle for emancipation. Continue reading »

Feb 162011


Wherever you go around Tunis, you see people demonstrating – at the airport, in front of the post office, schools, ministries, factories: simply everywhere. Protests and pickets are a feature of daily life. People sit in cafes drinking and chatting alongside demonstrators shouting slogans for change. Even small children have turned into political analysts, and are overheard mocking the speeches of Ben Ali, the deposed dictator. I saw one demonstration quietly split in two to allow the tram to pass by, reassembling promptly after its departure. Tunisians seem to have stumbled on the magical power of street protest, and are unwilling to relinquish it. Continue reading »

Jan 282011

We are witnessing the breakdown of the Arab state after decades of failure and mounting crises. The Arab political establishment has never looked weaker than it does today. It is either dying a protracted silent death, corroded from within, or collapsing in thunderous explosions. Tunisia, which toppled its dictator through popular revolution two weeks ago, is by no means an exception. The symptoms are evident throughout the region, from the accelerating movement of protest in Egypt, Algeria and Jordan, or the increasing polarisation of Lebanon’s sectarian politics, to the near-collapse of the state in Yemen and Sudan, and its complete disintegration in Somalia. Continue reading »

Jan 182011

Few Tunisians could have imagined that a president who had repressed and stifled them for more than 23 years could be so fragile, so vulnerable. As soon as the uprising that raged around the country for just over four weeks reached its capital, Tunis – with waves of protesters besieging the interior ministry, the seat of one of the region’s most brutal police machines, chanting “We are free, get out!” – he fell apart like a paper tiger. Continue reading »

Jan 042011

It seems that the waters of the stagnant Arab swamp may be stirring at last. Tunisia, that small north African country on the Arab world’s western shores, has for the past two weeks been the scene of a social uprising rare in this tightly controlled part of the world. This outburst of popular anger was ignited by an unemployed 26-year-old university graduate setting himself ablaze outside a police station in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid. Soon afterwards another young man electrocuted himself, shouting “No unemployment, no misery!” and more attempted suicides have been reported since. A wave of riots and protests has ensued, sweeping through towns and villages all over the country – even in the capital, Tunis. Continue reading »

Dec 112005

In the recent Egyptian elections, the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest and largest Islamic movement in the Arab world, has succeeded in winning approximately one third of the votes, even though the organisation, which continues to be banned in Egypt, had confined itself to contesting 144 out of the 454 parliamentary seats to avoid aggravating the government. Continue reading »