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What is interesting, and frightening, about the situations in Egypt and Yemen is how different those nations are economically. Egypt, like Tunisia, is relatively prosperous in North African/Middle Eastern terms. The unemployment rate in Egypt is less than ten per cent and “only” about twenty per cent of the populace lives below the poverty line. On the other hand, the unemployment rate in Yemen is over thirty five per cent and almost half of the nation lives in conditions of poverty. Thus, if we are looking for a common thread connecting discontent in these nations, we can’t rely on economic conditions. There has to be something else. Among the ideas that undoubtedly contribute to all the protests are these: the universal desire for self-determination, the freedom to exchange information and ideas in the modern world, and the belief that no one is entitled to virtual hereditary rule, measured in decades, in the modern world. And so we find ourselves faced with nascent revolutions in two very different countries, both of which may represent very different, but very real, threats to American and our allies if those revolutions are successful.
Up until now, the Muslim Brotherhood, Mubarak’s most powerful opponent in Egypt, has stayed out of recent protests. But as of today, the radical Islamic supremacist group is joining in the fray. This is very bad news for a number of reasons. Young, idealistic revolutionaries are about the worst sort of people to run the machinery of government that one can imagine. Egypt’s protests, if Rashidi is correct, represent a youth movement. If they’re successful, the “under 25” crowd won’t want to be bothered with the tedium of governing, but will rather hope that some more mature folks who say all the right things will assume that particular responsibility. The Muslim Brotherhood, which doesn’t have any qualms about completely misrepresenting itself and its aims in order to achieve its goals, is thus ideally positioned to take advantage of the chaos that would follow Mubarak’s ouster. And, because Egypt is a much more powerful nation than most Middle Eastern states thanks to years of American aid and support, if the Muslim Brotherhood grabbed control in Egypt it would be a disaster along the lines of Khomeini taking over in Iran.
On the other hand, Yemen remains a weak, impoverished nation. Yemen’s chief sources of revenue, its oil reserves, are rapidly drying up. Yet, it’s the poverty and hopelessness of Yemen that makes it especially attractive to Al Qaeda, the country that bin Laden’s terrorists use as their base of operations on the Arabian peninsula. It is thus important to western interests to keep Yemen within our sphere of influence, so that Al Qaeda can be contained and – hopefully – neutralized within its borders. Though Salih has been an uncertain ally, he has been an ally. Should the Yemeni opposition succeed in removing him from power, the same question that confronts us in Egypt remains: will the next regime remain at least outwardly friendly to western interests and values, or will the next regime be infinitely more dangerous than the one we know today?
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