International / News / May 4, 2011

Unrest continues throughout Middle East

Interviews marked with an asterisk were conducted over email.

Uprisings in the Middle East have not stopped with Egypt; protests in Yemen, Syria, Jordan and Oman have added to the unrest.

Junior Greg Noth*, who is currently studying in Oman, has experienced the protests firsthand, living five minutes away from the demonstrations in the southern capital.

“On Feb. 27th, a protester was killed in Sohar, an industrial city about an hour north of Muscat, where we were living at the time. We didn’t know what was going to happen,” Noth said. “I’d be lying if I said we weren’t thinking about exit strategies.”

The unrest is not, however, over yet.

“Last week Al Jazeera, Reuters and the Muscat Daily said 1,500 to 3,000 people marched after Friday prayers – that it was the largest demonstration to take place in Oman since all this started,” Noth said.

Noth is currently researching the protests. “I couldn’t have picked a better time to study in the region,” he said.

According to Noth, the reasons for the uprising have “been different in every country.” In Oman, unlike most other countries, the protests have been centered on corruption and economic issues.

“I think a major factor is Tunisia. People saw what happened there and got the courage to act,” he said.

Senior Courtney Tichler, who studied in the Middle East over the summer, also stressed the different motivations and potential outcomes between countries.

“Each nation has such a different political atmosphere,” Tichler said.

According to Professor of Political Science Bob Seibert, social media is the only common catalyst to the protests, “[allowing] people to put together nearly instant gatherings.”

These uprisings have occurred mostly without warning.

“I don’t know of anybody who predicted the scope and intensity of these movements,” Seibert said.

Unlike the fast influx of protests, change may not be instantaneous.

“Actual policy change within government will take a long time,” Tichler said. “Even if the desired changes aren’t made right away these protests are a symbol of change to come.”

Seibert said that in some countries there “may be genuine democratic reforms and changes.” He said Egypt and maybe Jordan are examples of these countries, while Syria is “becoming more repressive by the hour.”

Junior Bob Carey, who studied in Jordan in the fall, said, “I doubt, at least at any time soon, that we will see the same kind of drastic change in Jordan as has been happening in other countries throughout the Middle East.”

“There’s great potential here, but whether it’s potential for success or disaster hasn’t made itself clear yet,” Noth said.

“It’s exciting on the one hand and disconcerting on the other,” Seibert said. “We’re in a period of rapid change and frustrating ambiguity.”

The United States is in a unique position in relation to the uprisings.

Seibert says that the U.S. is viewed as being “both responsible [for their repression] and … a contributor to democratic outcomes.”

Social media has definitely opened up these countries, though, which will hopefully lead to more diplomatic relations and governmental change.

“It’s a really exciting change,” Tichler said. “I think it’s about time that a lot of these governments are held accountable and people are able to speak up.”

“It’s truly inspiring to see that such massive, communal undertakings are still possible in a time when so many live in their own isolated prisons,” Carey said.

Gretchen Walljasper

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