Terrorism: May 19, 2005


American and Western pressure for "reform" and "democracy" in the Arab world is having some interesting consequences. All of the Arab countries friendly to the West are essentially authoritarian, some secular (e.g., Egypt, Jordan) and some religious (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait). Pressure for greater openness and democratic reforms does not sit well with either group. Nor does this effort necessarily "convert" local advocates for democracy and reform into becoming supporters of the West. Only a few advocates of reform in the Arab world are in favor of genuinely progressive secular liberal institutions on a Western model. Most support "reform" because they believe it will bring about more authoritarian regimes (such as the Baath Party, which in its roots was a nationalistic quasi-socialist movement) or will result in more religiously-oriented regimes, as in the case with the "Moslem Brotherhood," which is strong in Egypt, and some other countries. There is much interest in the benefits of democracy (less corruption), but the idea of a "strong leader" is still popular.

Meanwhile, Islamic conservatives are hanging on in Yemen. Despite Yemeni government declarations to the contrary, the al Houthi movement was not defeated in heavy fighting earlier this year. Many al Houthi supporters are still active, and violent incidents occur daily. These are mostly small scale, often taking the form of grenade attacks against government supporters or institutions, including government offices in Sanaa, the capitol. The government has responded with numerous arrests and heavy patrolling in the tribal areas. The al Houthi crew are Islamic radicals that draw their power from similar tribal traditions. They are not becoming any more popular, but they aren't going away either. 

Further south, several countries, including Kenya and Tanzania, are supporting an Egyptian initiative to strengthen their anti-terrorism intelligence capabilities, including the development of a regional anti-terrorism information sharing system. While highly desirable, this may be difficult to accomplish. Kenya and Tanzania are two of the most stable regimes in Africa. By regional standards they are efficient, relatively corruption-free, and more or less democratic. Most other countries in Africa are much less so. Whatever the result, the initiative is likely to lead to increased Egyptian influence in the Sub-Saharan region.


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