The middle east in 2011 – a season of discontent:

Most years roll over from one to the other without too much of an upheaval most of the times. Yes, we have had a fair share of bad year roll over and not the least was the roll over into the new century when the Indian polity was wracked with an utmost severe crisis of the Kandhar hijacking of an IA flight from Nepal. This year however the Middle East has erupted in a manner that can at best be called unprecedented and the most can I think should be called momentous and extremely significant. The manner of regime change or at least regime threat that the popular uprisings have caused has never seen any equal ever prior to this and the pundits and policy wags are at a perpetual scramble trying to outguess what the next step would be. Digital pundits have gone to town with the success of the social network and Facebook and Twitter and even Google perhaps as tools of the trade to foment revolution, nay harness it and support it in manners never been thought of before. Every one has an opinion of course if they have not quite hijacked it at evening soirees and other such places where the chatterati gather to ruminate.

He may have named his child after a social network!

When history would be writ or rather compiled in hindsight as these things usually are – they will start off with the act of self immolation in desperate helplessness of a street vendor in Tunisia which was like a lightning rod for a lot of the rest that were disaffected in that tiny North African country that had otherwise maintained cordial relationships with the west. Before you knew it the matter had gone ballistic and the ruler – not a king but some kind of a president, abdicated and without a second thought. Just as people were trying to figure out what happened and the American state department and all that president’s men were really not sure what was happening and what might come next. After that it was like was a contagion and before you knew it Egypt was on the boil and live images from Tahrir square showed what can happen if people set their mind to it. The liberal media in the west conjectured on who or what had set this off – it sure as hell was not Al Qaeda who it was opined would have a lot to lose with people being free and democratic and with more opportunities to succeed otherwise except as holy warriors. An interesting article it was in the New York Times wondering about where the protestors at Egypt would go to the loo as another article commented on how the lot of Egyptian women who if they dared step out of home would usually end up being molested fared much better in this revolution. The end result of all these analyses seemed to point that yes this was indeed a grass roots unprecedented, unplanned, mobilization of the people for the people by the people. It was a damn flash mob and well if the policy wonks had known what a flash mob is?!! A knowledgeable and influential thought leader and staff writer at the New Yorker, who had earlier opined that the revolution would not be tweeted still hung on to his dystopian ideals of how Facebook and Twitter made no difference.

Probably getting ready to make a last stand - the mad dog!

Egypt played out in real-time, partly due to technology and the rest due to the tenacity of news crews, the tireless and obviously well connected like no one else Christiana Amanpour at ABC and Al Jazeera at the other end streamed it into houses and desktops and blogs and the rest in a pretty uncensored and accurate manner. A few like the people from CNN and others got a taste of what it takes to be in the middle of a war zone. The impact of the visuals can be gauged by the fact that the Chinese government rushed to black out all stories of these velvet revolutions in whatever media into the mainland.  The fact that it may be working and that the Chinese have the best in content filtering technology in the world can perhaps be estimated by the fact that there has been no contagion there. It I realize was not surprise that it was referred to in the past as the hidden kingdom. It may have missed China but the next-door neighbor in Arab North Africa and the land of oil and the notorious Ghaddafi could not survive. Known in the past as the mad dog the often derided mentally unstable leader tried shooting down protestors, saw mass scale diplomatic desertion on an international level and even had two of his pilots desert with their fighter plane when ordered to shoot down innocent civilians who had been protesting. He is still hanging in there as the month of March begins and it has been the craziest of all scenarios that has been getting played out there. His Ukrainian nurse whom Wikileaks had recently last year made famous was noted escaping back to her home country. The government lost control of parts of the country where local militia and deserter soldiers came together to take over running the cities and managing the oil flow, most critical to the world at large than perhaps freedom and the rest were or are for the North African polity. This is one North African long time leader that will go down fighting in some sort of a last stand with his women bodyguards and the tribal faithful after all he has been here 42 years now.

Oil on the Boil - where are the electric cars?

One of the main things was always and will be oil in that region. Many American politicians have commented in public and in private of the unfairness of god putting all the oil in places, which are not democratic in nature. It was also probably oil that kept the people safe in Egypt with the army realizing quickly I think that the Suez Canal had to be secured if the world was not to collapse.  There is some discussion that the fact that the American government and military had spent so much money and built relationships with the Egyptian Military had helped open backroom channels for discussion and the Mubarak was pushed out gently. Libya is awash in oil and the latest continuing uncertainty has already pushed oil into the $100 and plus bracket (NYMEX Crude futures is at $97.28 and Brent Spot is at $111.93 a barrel today as March begins in 2011) and Americans – the world’s largest consumers are already worried about the future of $4 a gallon of gas. That is something that is going to make a lot of people worried, not in the least the party that is incumbent in the American senate – there is an election coming up after all. But the Americans are doing everything o be not caught unawares in this fast changing political reality that is playing out. The state department realizes that monarchy’s weathered this storm better that the presidents did. Bahrain is still boiling but the only thing that is yet lost is the F1 there $290 – I am pretty sure the Bahraini population may have liked that one – assuming of course that most could afford it. This may mean that in the longer term – the royals at Riyadh could be safe and oil is possibly pointing lower on the futures than at the spot rate?

King Justinian 1 - 547 AD, represented on a mosaic in a church in Italy

I wonder at times like these whether perhaps the Somalian pirates do not feel a bit bad deep in their hearts as they prowl the wild open seas that they wish they had a government back home that they could go back to overthrow like the rest? I am certain that such a thing could actually happen if they just took to taxing at a nice 30 – 40% rate the traffic that flows through the gulf of Aden and use that money to secure the passage and also ensure no further trouble happens as it would build supporting ancillary industries and services around that coast and become a coastal, maritime based state like say a Singapore does, a sort of a Suez Canal perhaps but larger? This is not so strange to think when one appreciates that one of the earliest movements towards civilization was perhaps the act in the sixth century of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian who oversaw the consolidation of Roman civil law between 529 and 534 AD. The resulting collection is called the Corpus Juris Civilis. In the 11th century, professors at the University of Bologna, Western Europe’s first university, rediscovered Corpus Juris Civilis, and its influence began to be felt across Western Europe. In 1388, the word civil appeared in English meaning “of or related to citizens. We need civil law if we are to be civilized.

About Soumya
A technology enthusiast, forever enamored by all that it hath wrought and of course here is an attempt at making sense of it all and perhaps simplifying it!

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