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Thursday, January 27

Another 1848?


For those of you who don't know, the year 1848 saw a wave of revolutions spread across Europe. Fueled by social upheaval, economic disparity and a perceived need for political reform, the wave started in February when the people in France began to rise. They toppled the Orleanist July Monarchy of King Louis-Phillipe and established the Second Republic (which only lasted four years until the foundation of the Second Empire under Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte).

Revolts sprang up in Sicily, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Austria and Hungary. In most cases, the forces of reaction managed to suppress the uprisings, although it forced the Hapsburgs to create the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary out of the former Austrian Empire.

Now, you might ask (and why not?) why I am giving you a bowdlerized and condensed version of European history.

Well, it might be starting up again in Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula, that's why.

The fun began about a week or so ago when Tunisia's population decided they'd had quite enough of ruling President Ben Ali, thank you very much. Ben Ali and his hideous family were run out of the country, taking with them into Saudi exile a large amount of gold. A provisional government is slowly taking shape.

The overthrow of the Ben Ali regime was enough to set off the disaffected population of Egypt, which has been under the none-too-gentle authority of Hosni Mubarak since Anwar Sadat was shot to pieces back in 1981. The most recent parliamentary election in Cairo only permitted the opposition to hold 3% of the seats, which for many people was the last straw. Riots continue, a police station was torched in the port city of Suez, and it's reported that Mubarak's son and purported heir took his family and hightailed it for Europe.

Now we hear that protests are flaring up in the Yemeni capital of Sana, where people are afraid that President Saleh might change the term-limit laws and make himself president for life. It's entirely possible that Yemen's government, already a tad shaky from attacks by Islamists within and CIA Predator drones without, might go the way of Tunisia.

Parallels? Oh, they're there if you care to look - economic hardships and disparities between the haves and have nots, lack of actual political representation, authoritarian rule including secret police and detention without trial, etc.

I expect Qaddafi in Libya to tighten down the screws to prevent anything like this, but we might see unrest flare up elsewhere.

The really sad thing is watching the Obama Administration hem and haw over this. Granted, these nations are our allies, but we've been in bed with monsters and we've supported them. Either we show some signs of support for the uprisings (who are common people, yearning for democracy) or we'll be left at the door.

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