Tunisia: A Prosperous Revolt?
By Anvi Mahagaokar
In Roman history, there was only one man who was willing to relinquish power for the sake of the country – a farmer named Cincinnatus, who, after being called for dictatorship during war, gave up his position so Rome could function normally again once the war was won. This kind of patriotism is rarely found anymore, and instead, the public observes politicians who seem to prioritize only one thing (and it’s not the well being of their constituents). They seek reelection. Therefore, it came as a coup de grace when interim Islamist Prime Minister Larayedh voluntarily stepped down in order to facilitate the democratization of the country – which had previously been hindered by the Islamist government. Larayedh’s sacrifice allowed the passage of the new Tunisian Constitution, something that analysts have praised as a revival of the original Arab Spring spark. The Constitution is great for Tunisia in many ways. First, it placates the once furious members of Tunisia, it gives women more rights, and it will aid in economic recovery.
Revolutions may be a means to propagate progress in a nation, but it can also very easily lead to a paroxysm of rebellions led by the idealistic and angry youth. Tunisia’s Constitution is finally something that the youth of Tunisia can accept because it is fairly liberal and is not too lax on policies that the government must implement. It also represents a symbol of government-people interaction, which was a major source of contention in the first revolution. They finally feel as though they have a say in how the government enacts policies, and that is a heady feeling in a world filled with political apathy. The content that these citizens feel is to the benefit of future stability in the country, because if the constituents are pleased with the way the government is handling political, economic, and social issues, then the desire for revolution is lessened exponentially. A decrease in the likelihood of revolution is one of the best scenarios for Tunisia because it makes people (not just in the country itself) less wary of events to come.
While Middle Eastern countries have scaled back on women’s rights since the Arab Spring first started, the Tunisian Constitution has made waves by allowing the country’s women citizens more rights than before. In pre-Arab Spring Tunisia, there were many discriminatory laws that eschewed gender equality. One law that was particularly archaic was the ‘Inheritance Law’ which entitled women only half the share of what their male peers would receive. The new Constitution has specific articles in it, which strictly prohibit any gender specific discriminatory laws. While there is still a dispute on how far these laws will be interpreted, it is still a huge leap for women in Tunisia, who are growing more independent, and need the laws to evolve in tandem for their society to flourish. This will hopefully pave the way for future laws involving gender equality in the region, because in order to fully grow as a society, all components of the same society need to be regarded as equal.
Finally, all of these changes in the Tunisian political atmosphere will hopefully also bring economic prosperity to the country. The Middle East has long since been known as the problem area for the rest of the world, and this image was solidified after the repeated failures of the revolutions. Yet, Tunisia, as the only country to emerge victorious from this dispute, hopes to capitalize upon this novelty. They are hoping that the newfound stability inside the government and society will bring about investors, who are eager to dip their feet into a relatively stable Middle Eastern country to diversify (and maybe get a gander at their oil). By doing so, they will revitalize their economy, and gain something other than political benefits from this progressiveness.
So all in all, while it’s been a long time coming, Tunisia has managed to pull itself out of the typhoon of revolution that has encompassed the rest of the misfortunate and indecisive countries in the Middle East. With their new constitution, perhaps Tunisia can bring the Arab Spring full circle, and end it where it started.
The Egyptian “Revolution”
By Anvi Mahagaokar
In December 2010, many people around the world welcomed the conception of the Arab Spring with joy and hope that democracy might finally reign in the Middle East. However, after three years, unfortunately, the situation is no better than it was before the revolution. Being one of the first (and certainly the most dramatic) of the “Arab Springlets”, Egypt has since devolved into a state of chaos. Egypt had the portents of being the most successful country because it had the largest population of the affected countries and that it was hitherto stable, pro-western, and secular. The prognosis for the Egyptian’s democracy and its implementation across the Middle East does appear grim – the military has exerted excessive power, there is a systemic lack of national identity and many advocates for democracy are wary of joining the political spectrum – the old adage of politics being the last resort of scoundrels is keeping the real leadership from emerging. Additionally Eygpt is an agrarian economy which is highly subsidized – education is cheap and jobs are scarce and with burgeoning youth population it is naturally creating an unsteady state. It is therefore imperative to reevaluate whether or not democracy is a viable goal for the Egyptian people at this point in the ‘revolution’.
Let’s examine the genesis of this issue – Egypt was a dictatorship prior to the revolution, and it had given the military significant power; in fact, the military wasn’t controlled by any one branch, but operated as a sovereign branch, independent from the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches. However, even after Morsi was elected, in the aftermath of the revolution and the subsequent transition of power from the military to civilian government, no constitutional amendments were made to diminish that power. As a result, when the rebellions resurfaced, it was easy for the military to seize power once again and come full circle. Currently, the power of the military is supreme and will not be amended because the military will not allow it. In the absence of constitutional amendments to rectify the absurd amount of power that the military possesses, the vicious cycle of military coup d’états will continue and Egypt’s democratic dream may prove to be a pipe dream.
More pressingly, however, is the issue that Egypt sorely lacks a national identity. One of the most important parts of a revolution (surprisingly) is a clear goal and plan of action of what happens after the leadership is overthrown. Revolutionaries cannot, however, create a cohesive post-revolutionary plan without a clear vision of their political and economic ideals. When the Framers first sat down to write the Articles of Confederation and subsequently the Constitution, they all had similar values upon which they wished to build their country. The Egyptians, however lack this unity of thought. There are a multitude of different political ideologies and in fact, the aftermath of the revolution saw the creation of a plethora of parties – several of which clashed in most aspects. Additionally, the driving force behind the initial revolution was the Egyptian youth, and while they may have been extremely disillusioned with General and President Hosni Mubarak, they are still unsure about what to expect from their government. The fringe religious parties saw democracy and secularism as a threat and yet others saw change from Mubarak regime as detrimental to the future. If Egypt is to be a democratic state, democracy must be an ideal to the entire population, not just by a part of it.
Finally, the most prevalent hurdle that is keeping democracy at bay in Egypt is the lack of willing and able leadership. After Morsi was overthrown, his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and all those involved, were and still are systematically hunted down by the government for treasonous crimes. The atmosphere of fear elsewhere in the world and in history created and in fact legitimized revolutionary leadership, however in Eygpt’s case the lack of uniform revolutionary party and its leadership is completely missing. Those who the general populace once thought would unreservedly enter the world of politics for the betterment of their country now shy away due to the lack of personal security and fear of harassment. After all, if the government can persecute an 80-year-old party that was integral to the functioning of the country, what would they do to a couple of revolutionaries? Due to the government’s harsh and persecutory actions, politicians who advocate for the implementation of democracy are becoming gun shy. Games, political or otherwise, cannot be played without players. The absence of willing politicians will actually serve to be a downfall in Egypt’s democratic progress. Perhaps the new Egypt does not need seasoned political campaigners, perhaps what is necessary is the idealism that only the youth can galvanize and aspire for. The youth that formed the movement in early 2011 around Tahrir Square needs to use the Square once again, only this time to raise from amongst its rank a fearless principled leader who will lead Egypt from its depths of despair towards the light that is democracy.
Egypt is a country that is perilously balanced on the blade of a political knife – it can either easily go deeper into another forty years of military rule, or it could take the tougher road towards democratization. Regardless, without the emergence of a principled leadership that creates a common purpose, which will bond the entire country towards betterment and self-reliant economic growth, there is no viable way to institutionalize democracy in Egypt that will live longer than the all the kingdoms of glorious ancient Egypt.
The War on Drugs
By Anvi Mahagaokar
After decades of failing to gain the upper hand in the so-called War on Drugs, many are frustrated with the current stagnation that faces the governments in the conflict. It seems that the drug cartels are consistently beating the governments, only resulting in thousands upon thousands of deaths. Unfortunately, the biggest death of them all is that of hope itself – the lack of morale in many of the violence ridden countries may prove to be their downfall.
This senseless violence has prompted the circulation of several possible solutions. The most unorthodox one, however, is the decriminalization of drugs. It had circulated as a viable solution for a couple of years, until the U.N. reasserted its zero tolerance policy for drugs still stands. That said, many countries throughout Latin America are entertaining the idea of instituting the somewhat avant-garde policy in direct retaliation to the drug war.
After Uruguay announced it was taking a small step towards decriminalizing drugs by first legalizing the sale and possession of marijuana, many analysts started wondering if the pros of decriminalization actually outweighed the cons. In theory, the decriminalization of drugs could prove to be the fatal blow to the drug cartels, and instrumental in ending the long drawn out Drug War.
First, legalizing the sale and possession of drugs, at least in Latin America has many benefits – the first being that the government can capitalize upon the economic benefits of the drug trade. Many Latin American countries are socialist, and therefore, because of the current legal status of drugs, they cannot privatize the market. On the other hand, should the governments choose to decriminalize drugs, then they would have the ability to privatize the cartels in order to turn a profit. These countries are, for the most part, developing economies, and the extra bit of revenue garnered from this could end up facilitating long term economic growth for the countries involved. It would be a win for everyone involved (except the drug cartels).
Additionally, in relation to the drug related violence, part of the reason the drug cartels have large influence is because many drug related businesses are conducted underground. In the underground, cartels have the ability to extort and murder in order to make their profits. People are so scared of the cartels because the judicial systems in many of these countries are corrupt and law enforcement is constantly bribed by the cartel leaders. Therefore, the people do not have the ability to get legal justice for the crimes against them. This lack of judiciary power leaves an incentive for the cartels to continue to perpetuate their violence, because they are cognizant of the fact that they are not going to get punished for dealing in illegal drugs. By decriminalizing drugs, Latin American governments can eliminate the atmosphere of fear in their country, even if they can’t do anything about the judicial system because if the judicial system is no longer involved in the process, then the cartels have nothing to hold over the citizens’ heads. If the governments choose to decriminalize drugs, they can effectively take power from the cartels by taking away their leverage, ensuring that the level of violence in these countries decreases.
Currently, even though the U.N. and the American federal government are against the decriminalization and legalization of drugs as a means of combatting the drug cartels, it really is one of the last viable options available. In order to stem the violence that is prevalent throughout the countries, the countries need to come to an agreement and take action soon in order to gain the upper-hand in a war that is plaguing countries across the western hemisphere.