Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Who else is taking cues from Egypt?

Posted By Joshua Keating Tuesday, February 1, 2011 - Blog Foreign Policy

In addition to Tunisia and Egypt, recent days have seen demonstrations in Yemen, Sudan, and Jordan, where the king has just replaced his prime minister. But demonstrators in some more unlikely places are attempting to link their movements to the Egyptian upheaval. At the Russian opposition's monthly rally in Moscow's Triumfalnaya Square, (See Julia Ioffe's recent piece for the origins of the event.) former deputy prime minsiter turned opposition leader Boris Nemtsov tried to make the association:
Organizers of the sanctioned rally — scheduled for the 31st day of every month with 31 days to commemorate Article 31 of the Constitution granting the right of assembly — said 2,500 activists came to the downtown square. Police put the figure at 500.
Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov won loud applause by comparing the political situation in Russia to that in Egypt, a country undergoing uprising along with neighboring Tunisia after decades of authoritarian rule. He compared Putin to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, now losing grip of power after 30 years at the helm.
“Putin: Resign, we're sick and tired of you,” Nemtsov chanted along with the crowd.
To the south in Azerbaijan, authorities also seem be worried about the wave of protest spreading:
Sources in the government tell EurasiaNet.org that in recent days they have received directives advising them to avoid irritating the population and to work effectively and build public trust.
Some government critics, meanwhile, are trying to highlight similarities between Mubarak’s and Aliyev’s administrations.
A group of 100-plus non-partisan and opposition candidates, along with activists from political parties and non-governmental organizations, gathered on January 29 to urge the Azerbaijani government to either hold new parliamentary elections, or brace for popular protests similar to those seen in Egypt and Tunisia.
The leaders of the group’s main opposition parties – Musavat and Popular Front of Azerbaijan -- have not said whether or not they would be the ones organizing protests. Azerbaijan’s opposition is not known for its political muscle, but one political commentator, Shahveled Chobanoghlu, notes that events in Egypt and Tunisia have shattered myths about political change in Muslim countries.
Steve Levine also speculates today on whether the events in Egypt played a part in Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev's decision to cancel a referendum that would have essentially made him president for life.
The protests in Russia and Azerbaijan are obviously relatively tiny gatherings, that if anything, illustrate that these countries lack a popular opposition movement along the lines of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. It's interesting though that not so long ago, phrases like "Velvet Revolution" and "Color Revolution," referring to democratic upheavals in the former communist world, were used by hopeful western pundits to describe events in places like Lebanon and Iran. It certainly seems like the momentum has shifted to the Middle East now.