Belmont Club

I Heard it on the Grapevine

Algerian authorities have sent out riot squads armed to the teeth and have shut down the Internet in an effort to avoid repeating the actions of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Daily Telegraph reported.

There were also reports of journalists being targeted by state-sponsored thugs to stop reports of the disturbances being broadcast to the outside world.

But it was the government attack on the internet which was of particular significance to those calling for an end to President Abdelaziz Boutifleka’s repressive regime.

Protesters mobilising through the internet were largely credited with bringing about revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.

“The government doesn’t want us forming crowds through the internet,” said Rachid Salem, of Co-ordination for Democratic Change in Algeria.

And Algeria is not alone in curtailing the information available to its citizens. The Guardian reports that Iran is jamming the BBC’s Persian Service. “It appears that the trigger point was a joint broadcast on Wednesday by the corporation’s Persian and Arabic services in which Iranian and Egyptian callers exchanged views. Many Iranian viewers said during the interactive programme that they were watching events unfold in Cairo extremely closely.”

These kinds of tactics were predicted in the previous post, Contagion, which asserted that the lesson that Cuba, Iran and every authoritarian regime in the Middle East would have learned from President Obama’s handling of the Egypt crisis was to go ugly early.

The opportunistic foreign policy followed by the administration would drive regimes to conclude never to give their populations the opportunity in the first place. Given this, the administration will therefore have to either create a real “Democracy Agenda” of its own, with a strategy, doctrine and logistical apparatus or continue employing a public relations program masquerading as one. But PR programs can only go so far and surprise only works the first time, after that, preparation and consistency count.

But others may be prepared.  Iran and Syria, for reasons which have nothing to do with democracy, who have never relied on diplomacy in the first place, have invested in selling their ideology and spreading their cadres throughout the region. With that infrastructure, both Damascus and Teheran may be in an operationally better position to ride the wave of unrest that is sweeping the region than Washington. They may have the assets on the ground to exploit the situation, in contrast to the administration, which seems to have no other weapon than a microphone behind a teleprompter.

Maybe it had better be ready sooner than later. Reuters reports that Islamists and “reformist” politicians are demanding an end to the absolutist Saudi Monarchy.  “Saudi Islamists and opposition activists have launched a political party in a rare challenge to the absolute monarchy, asking King Abdullah for a voice in the Gulf Arab state’s governance, its organizers said Thursday. The move was apparently prompted by popular revolts in the Arab world that toppled Tunisia’s president last month and have loosened the grip of Egypt’s autocratic leader.”

A real Democracy Agenda means a capability to participate meaningfully in the reconstruction of regimes which have reached the end of their lives. Capacity is king.  The apparent lack of means to take advantage of the opportunities now presented are the real opportunity cost of the reliance on Hope and Change. The Genie’s out of the bottle and the Middle Eastern populations have heard it through the grapevine.  And the forces it is unleashing are dragging a Washington that was unprepared for this eventuality into the unknown.

Bet you’re wond’ring how I knew ’bout your plans to make me blue
With some other guy that you knew before?
Between the two of us guys, you know I love you more.
It took me by surprise, I must say, when I found out yesterday.

I heard it through the grapevine, not much longer would you be mine.
I heard it through the grapevine, and I’m just about to lose my mind.

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