2012 Threatens to be Very Violent Year
by PATRICK COCKBURN
In three of the Arab countries east of Egypt – Syria, Bahrain and Yemen – protesters have challenged their governments over the past year but failed to overthrow them. The reasons for those failures are very different though they have important points in common. In each of these states protesters were frustrated because a significant part of the population had a lot to lose if the ruling elite were reformed or overthrown.
In Syria and Bahrain religious identity helps explain loyalty to the powers-that-be. Protesters in Bahrain might insist that their program was secular and democratic, but everybody knew that a fair poll would affect revolutionary change by putting the majority Shia in power instead of the minority Sunni. In Syria, similarly, democracy means that the Sunni, three quarters of the population, would effectively replace the Alawites, a heterodox Shia sect, as rulers of the state.