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How, why and now what?

World reporter Ulf Nilson's weekly column for Nordstjernan (March 8, 2011)

As I write this, Mr. Gadaffi, is still alive, if not well, and in power, if there is any. That the man is insane should perhaps also be noted.

Which leads to three uncomfortable questions:
1. How could the powers that be let this madman rule for 44 (yes, forty four!) long years?
2. Why did the Middle East explode this particular spring of 2011?
3. What will happen now?
The answer to question one is fairly simple. Libya is a leading oil producer so everybody wanted to have smooth and mutually beneficial relations with it. Besides, as long as the man tortured and killed only his country's unlucky citizens, what the heck. Ronald Reagan saw fit to bomb the country once in retaliation for some terrorism, but that was that. Also, Gadaffi abstained from buying himself an atomic bomb. Great, wasn't it?
As for question number two, the most important reason the Middle East exploded is the rulers—from Gadaffi to Mubarak and all the others—have been too greedy, too corrupt, too brutal (you can add any number of negative adjectives here) to gain the confidence and respect of their respective populations. Hatred and misery were built over decades.
Demography also played a very important part. All the countries of the Middle East have produced babies at a record pace for many years. The result: hordes of young, unemployed men, thirsting, if not to be free, at least to be reckoned with, taken care of, maybe even to get jobs.
There simply had to be an explosion and when it started, the Internet was there to inform about the outbreak, and by informing it ignited new explosions.
And what happens now? What all this will lead to is anybody's guess. I, myself, having traveled in the Middle East ever since I reported on the Suez crisis in 1956, am not—repeat NOT—optimistic. I read again and again that this or that population is going to liberate itself and again and again I want to say: not so fast, buddy, not so fast.
For the fact is that all the Middle Eastern states, including non Arabic Iran, totally lack the structure and the experience of democracy. They have all been ruled by dictators or juntas (such as the prince junta in Saudi Arabia) who felt at liberty to fix elections and pack the prisons with people who might, just might, try to gain power. In the Middle East and Africa, more than in other parts of the world, power flows from the barrel of a gun. Ask Gadaffi! Ask Asssad in Syria, or for that matter, Abdullah in Jordan! Or Amadinejahd in Iran! It is the same all over: He who has the most guns, decides.
And so it will continue. In all the countries in the area, the only really strong institution is the military. Generals are the true holders of power in Iraq as well as Egypt, Algeria and so on. Generals can (at least almost always) count on being obeyed. They have administrative experience and loads of soldiers to enforce their will. And since there are no other well organized, or well armed, groups, the generals will carry the day. In some cases they will quarrel with each other, which mainly means one general will replace another (and throw a gang of the first one's supporters in jail).
In other words, stability will not descend on the Middle East for quite a long time. And as for democracy in that part of the world, no, no, no, I don't expect to see it in my life time.…


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