by Daniel Martin Varisco, Middle East Muddle, Anthropology News, November, 2013
As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt prophesied, December 7th, 1941 is a day that lives in infamy, even some seven decades after the event that triggered United States entry into the Second World War. Another date of more recent infamy is December 17, 2010, when a harassed Tunisian vegetable hawker named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the municipal building in the picturesque town of Sidi Bouzid. Although badly burned, he survived until January 4, just ten days before Ben Ali, the Tunisian dictator for some 23 years, boarded a plane for exile in Saudi Arabia. The first kind of infamy was the beginning of a devastating war, the second became the stimulus for what was hoped to be a sweeping political revolution across the Middle East. Three years later it seems to be politics as usual, a chilly seasonal change from the jasmine scent of the Arab Spring that blew across Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen and now swirls through the political maelstrom enveloping a surviving dictator in Syria, ongoing instability in Iraq and Afghanistan and a new regime outlook in Iran.
Seasoned pundits know that in many parts of the world spring’s prospects yield to the heat of summer, the cooling autumn and eventually the chilly reality of winter in a never-ending cycle. The Arab Spring is not one season fits all, but the overall effects have been more chilling than thrilling this year. In Tunisia the Islamic party leading the country is in a state of national paralysis following the July killing of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi. In Egypt the elected president, Muhammad Morsi, remains in military custody and his major party of support, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been banned. The military, under General Sisi, has reinstated martial law in a move that most Egyptians, it seems, support. In both Tunisia and Egypt, the transition to power by Islamic groups who promised not to dismantle the civil state structure has angered a wide range of groups, especially secularists and more moderate Muslims. (more…)