From the Arab Spring to a Saharan Winter
After the Arab Spring, there has been no summer bounty. No enlightenment. No renaissance in the Arab Islamic world. Ethnic cleansing continues unabated in Sudan. The horrors in Homs, Syria show the terror a despotic regime will perpetrate to keep power.
The fairy tale ending we were promised from Tahrir Square in Cairo where protesters demanded freedom and toppled the Mubarak regime is lost. What once seemed so exciting and full of promise has resulted in more corruption, violence and the destruction of Egypt’s tourist industry. What Mubarak knew as did his Minister of Antiquities, Dr. Zahi Hawass, was the preservation of Egypt’s rich pre-Islamic history and the thousands of years of artifacts and archaeological sites that make up a significant part of human history kept Egypt from sliding into chaos. From Cleopatra, back to King Tutankhamen, and Amenhotep and even biblical tribes that once dotted Egypt’s landscape, Mubarak understood that Egypt’s financial stability required some level of pragmatism with the Western world and a robust tourist industry was the ticket. Nobody would be so foolish as to suggest life in Egypt was terrific but it was more prosperous and there was a (too) slow path toward a better, more modern future.
The nation now faces life under the Muslim Brotherhood’s iron grasp, corruption and a devastated tourism industry that died in a breath after Mubarak and Hawass’ departure. Poverty is de rigeur. And freedom never came.
There are lessons to be learned from the unrest. The Kingdom of Morocco and Algeria have a long simmering debate over the former Spanish territory, the Western Sahara. The native Saharwis are spread across the vast desert. Thousands remain imprisoned on Algerian soil in the Tindouf refugee camps. The Algerians will not allow them free passage to the desert, and beyond the berm lays their native land where an Autonomy agreement awaits - with their freedom for self-determination and long lost families separated by time and political turmoil. While some would note that a few carefully chosen Saharwi leave the camps for “vacations” in the Canary Islands or elsewhere, it is never a family who dissents from the Polisario Front’s line in the sand. Dissent is not welcome.
There is no perfect solution. The only leadership, aside from the Moroccan government, comes from the Polisario Front which is developing strong ties to al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) and is now accused of stealing humanitarian aid from the very people it purports to care about most. Their excursions into Mali and Mauritania, sovereign nations, to conduct illicit and often murderous activities is one of many growing concerns.