Panel Addresses Uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia

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Panel Addresses Uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia
2/10/2011
Photo: Uprisings in Egypt, TunisiaThe revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt are making daily headlines, because they may fundamentally shift the balance of power in the Middle East. On Feb. 8, the Center for International Studies held “Contagious Uprisings? Tunisia, Egypt and the Middle East," a panel discussion on that topic.

The speakers were Aida Araissi, a native of Tunisia and the president of Houston's Bilateral U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce; Dr. Nivien Saleh, the Middle East expert of the Center for International Studies; and Richard Sindelar, an adjunct professor at the Center. In the 1990s, Sindelar served as Deputy Director of the Office of Near East and South Asia Analysis in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

During the event, Araissi gave a personal and vivid account of Tunisia's economic malaise and the corruption in its ruling family. That and the country's high levels of unemployment drove Tunisians on the streets after a poor college graduate who had been harassed by the police set himself on fire and burned to death.

Saleh explained how events in Tunisia sparked uprisings in Egypt that were similar in character but much larger in scale. While Tunisia has a population of 10 million, Egypt's is at 80 million. While Tunisians are largely secular, Egyptians tend to be religious. Consequently, an overthrow of the Mubarak regime might have tremendous regional repercussions.

Sindelar analyzed what the implications of events were for U.S. policy in the region. He emphasized that the United States has less control over events in the Middle East than is commonly assumed and pointed out that U.S. policy is frequently driven by short-term thinking and incrementalism than by a long-term strategic vision.

Saleh was also recently interviewed on the topic of “High Tech Challenges Confronting Egypt” on KUHF Houston Public Radio on Feb. 2.

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