Thursday, February 10, 2011

POLICY ALERT: Views from Asia on Turmoil in Egypt


February 10, 2011
Rising Powers Initiative
Sigur Center for Asian Studies

As Washington is closely following developments in Egypt, what are other countries saying about events in Egypt and the Middle East? This Policy Alert brings you the domestic viewpoints from Japan, China, Russia, Iran and India.


The press appears preoccupied with Japan’s domestic politics, paying surprisingly little attention to events in Egypt.

• The Asahi Shimbun, however, has explicitly called for President Hosni Mubarak to “resign immediately.” It also points out that Japan is one of the main providers of foreign aid to Egypt, and urges the Japanese government to work with Western countries in pressing for a democratic transition in Egypt.


The Chinese government has blocked keyword searches of Egypt on the internet, while official reporting and commentary are downplaying any prospects of democratic change.

• “Color revolutions will not bring about real democracy,” runs the headline of an editorial in the Global Times. “Whether the [democratic] system is applicable in other countries is in question, as more and more unsuccessful examples arise,” says the Communist Party-sponsored English daily.

• Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of the People Daily’s online, predicts that a seizure of power by the Muslim Brotherhood would “spell a helpless nightmare for Washington's Middle East policy,” and that “the U.S. must be playing with fire if its…will to usher in political reforms to the region turn out to set a political stage for the radical and even extremist forces.”


Official rhetoric in Iran is spinning the Egyptian uprising as an Islamic movement, expressing solidarity with Egyptians while interpreting the fall of Mubarak as a sign of America’s loss of influence in the region.

• One commentary in the Tehran Times says that “[Mubarak’s] dysfunctional regime has received the support of the United States for decades, to the dismay of most Egyptians,” and calls for the Egyptian president to step down.

• Another op-ed paints the West as trying to take advantage of a domino effect of regime change in the Arab world: “The Western powers will allow the authoritarian regimes of the Arab world to collapse and attempt to replace them with fake democracies run by puppet rulers beholden to their masters in the West.”


• In Russia, the official reaction has been rather low-key. Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, explains that "Russia does not have any special levers for influencing how the situation develops." Other analysts attribute the Kremlin’s cautious stance to its worries that events in Egypt could spark similar movements in Eurasia.

• Commentators, on the other hand, have voiced a range of opinions, from warnings that the Middle East may see the emergence of fundamentalist regimes, to insinuations that America bears some responsibility for the Egyptian uprising.

• As for the impact on Russian domestic politics, a former State Duma deputy comments that Russia’s aging population and growing political apathy mean that an Egyptian-style, youth-led movement is not going to happen in Russia.


In stark contrast, the world’s largest democracy is abuzz with excitement and optimism over change in Egypt.

• Editorials in leading newspapers express strong support for democracy in Egypt:
The Hindu says “the Egyptian state has lost all legitimacy” and that “we are almost certainly witnessing a transformative moment in the modern history of West Asia.”

The Economic Times writes, “This could well be the moment when democracy gets its chance in the Arab nations, India, the US and all other democracies should embrace the change in Arabia.” The Indian Express characterizes the Egyptian uprising as “a re-emergence of the Arab tradition of liberalism.”

• Salman Haidar, former Foreign Secretary, writes that even though the events in Egypt will have “little direct impact” on India, the shared “love of freedom as a basic value” means that “[Indians] can only rejoice when others choose to do the same, so their sympathies are closely engaged with the struggle of the mass of Arabs who have come out in defiance of seemingly immovable rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and other parts of West Asia.”

• One op-ed in The Times of India says “Western governments, as well as India, should commit themselves to the establishment of full democracy in Egypt.” Another commentator sees this as a reaffirmation of India’s democracy, which has been key to domestic stability because it “allows for oppositional voice”

• However, there are also worries about the rise of an Islamist regime in Egypt and the impact on Indian domestic security. Ved Marwah, Professor at Centre For Policy Research, warns that if “if the Islamic forces succeed - like a repeat of the Iranian revolution - it could be a potentially dangerous situation. Such disturbing developments could impact not only our external relations with the Arab countries where we have vital interests but also our internal situation.”

POLICY ALERTS of the Rising Powers Initiative inform U.S. policymakers and media professionals of the ongoing debates in China, India, Japan, Russia and Iran on current issues and events relevant to American foreign policy. The Rising Powers Initiative includes a research project that identifies and tracks the worldviews of major and aspiring powers in Asia and Eurasia. This project is supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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