The Arab Spring - Season Two.
By Barrie Dunsmore

Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus
Sunday April 29th, 2012

          If the Arab Spring were a television series, Season One was a smash hit - dictators were deposed, democracy was embraced, freedom became reachable for millions of people oppressed for generations. In Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt and Libya this all happened dramatically with relatively small cost in human lives - certainly by the historical standards for revolutions. Syria was and is the major exception. But as long as Russia and China continue to block any potential U.N. military intervention, with 10,000 deaths and counting, Syria remains the big negative of the Arab Spring.

          Yet interest in Season Two of the Arab Spring has fallen off because it has failed to meet the high expectations of Season One. If this were a television series the critics would be panning it and very few people would be watching. In fact, most days if you were to look for news of Arab Spring II on the networks’ newscasts you would assume it had been cancelled.

          The political processes underway, particularly in Egypt, are complex. It is hard to follow
the arcane twists and turns involving the various religious, secular and military factions as they struggle mightily over who is going to rule Egypt- and what kind of a country Egypt is going to be. Still, if a creative television and movie writer such as Aaron Sorkin (the West Wing, the Social Network, Moneyball) could be drafted to write a snappy screenplay on what’s been happening in Egypt in recent months, it could be both engaging and enlightening. It would also have the added virtue of actually being about something important, while serving to explain to Americans what is happening in this strategically crucial part of the world.

          Here are a few proposed (and real) story lines:
-61 yr old Fayza Abdul Naga was the minister of planning and international cooperation under former President Hosni Mubarak and a good friend of Mubarak’s wife Suzanne. In February the former minister suddenly became the driving force behind the indictments of 16 Americans working in Cairo, including the son of US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. They were charged with interference in Egypt’s internal affairs. The Americans were actually there on behalf of both the U.S. Democratic and Republican parties to help Egyptians organize their elections. It was initially thought Ms. Fayza was acting on behalf of Egypt’s ruling Supreme Military Council. But she defied the top general when he called for her to back off, after Washington threatened to substantially cut U.S. military aid. Eventually the Americans were allowed to leave Egypt after $5 million in fines were paid (and $1.3 billion later restored to the Egyptian military.) But a number of local Egyptians working for democracy with international organizations are still facing prosecution in trials set to begin in June.

-As expected the 84 year old Islamic political party known as the Muslim Brotherhood won about half of the seats in the first new parliamentary elections. What wasn’t expected was that the ultra conservative Salafists would win another a quarter of the vote, giving religious Muslims a stranglehold in Parliament and on the writing of the new Egyptian constitution. The liberal and secular groups that had led the demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square did very poorly and their candidate for president, Nobel Prize winner Mohammed el- Baradei withdrew from the presidential race, citing anticipated, electoral irregularities. (One way or another he was pretty much certain to lose.)

-After promising it would not field a presidential candidate the Muslim Brotherhood did just that, nominating Khairat el Shater, a very wealthy businessman who had financed the Brotherhood for many years. The party explained that it needed to run a strong presidential candidate because the military council was increasingly blocking efforts to write the new constitution. It has long been suspected that the ruling generals would do whatever was necessary to protect the military’s vast financial enterprises which dominate the Egyptian economy and made them multi-millionaires.

- Earlier this month, the High Election Commission, a panel of five senior judges appointed by Mubarak, declared ten presidential candidates ineligible including the three leading ones. Hazem Abu Ismail, the Islamic ultra-fundamentalist candidate was removed because his mother held dual Egyptian-American citizenship. The Brotherhood’s candidate el Shater failed to qualify because he was a convicted felon - having been arrested under trumped up charges during the Mubarak regime. But the real shock was the court’s ruling that Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s vice president and chief of intelligence, could not run for president because many of the required signatures supporting his candidacy were possible forgeries. Most Egyptians had suspected Suleiman’s last minute decision to run meant that the fix was in- and that he and the military would put a stop to all this democracy nonsense. Apparently not.

-There are now three new front runners. The Muslim Brotherhood’s new candidate is Mohammed Morsi who wants Egypt to be ruled under strict Islamic Law and is strongly anti-Israel. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is a former leader of the Brotherhood who is campaigning for a pluralistic Egyptian state that while Islamic, does not discriminate against women or secularists. The third man is Amr Moussa, who for the decade of the nineties was foreign minister under Mubarak with whom he had a public falling out. He then became Secretary General of the Arab League. Moussa argued last week that Egypt cannot afford an “experiment” in Islamic democracy. If he wins, what does that mean?

          Given the chance, I believe such stories could make at least as compelling viewing as who is dropped next week from Dancing with the Stars. As David Kirkpatrick, the New York Times correspondent in Cairo wrote recently, “The winner (of next month’s presidential election) could set the course for Egypt’s future, overseeing the drafting of the new constitution, settling the status of its current military rulers and shaping its relations with the West, Israel and its own Christian minority.” That might even be as significant as who will be the next winner of American Idol.

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