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Stratfor: Egypt scenario is unlikely in Armenia
According to Stratfor Research Center experts’, Egypt scenario is unlikely to occur in Armenia and other former Soviet Union states.
Washington based think-tank report says:

“As protests continue in Egypt, there has been much speculation that similar developments could occur in the former Soviet Union, particularly in Russia. This is unlikely, however, as there are too many differences — both cultural and political — between Egypt and the former Soviet states. However, factors unrelated to the Egypt unrest have created risks for instability in several other former Soviet countries.


As the unrest in Egypt has continued unfolding, there has been much speculation about the possibility of similar developments occurring in Russia and other countries across the former Soviet Union (FSU). This is not particularly surprising or unfounded; as with Egypt, many FSU states have autocratic leaders who have been in power for decades, and in many of these countries, authoritarian leaders suppress the opposition, often forcefully.

But there are several fundamental differences that preclude the possibility of the “Egypt effect” reaching FSU countries. That said, some key countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia are, for reasons quite separate from the Egyptian unrest, facing pressures that could strain their political and social stability.

Key General Differences

There are three general differences between the FSU countries and Egypt in terms of unrest and instability. First, while many FSU countries are ruled by authoritarian regimes, their political systems are not similar to Egypt’s. Whereas Egypt’s ruling regime is rooted in the military — the security apparatus built for dealing with external threats — the FSU’s authoritarian governments are dominated by the post-Soviet style intelligence and internal security apparatus. While Egypt boasts a powerful internal security apparatus, it was this force — the internal police — that was hated by the population and whose suppression of protesters eventually led to military intervention. The military is the trusted and respected force in Egypt and has been in charge of overseeing the ongoing process of political transition. In the FSU states, it is the intelligence and internal security forces that are the ultimate arbiters of power, and it is from these groups that leaders such as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hail.

Also, most regimes in the FSU that are at risk of social and political instability are not Western allies. One reason the Egyptian military did not intervene forcefully against the protesters, in addition to maintaining its reputation among the Egyptian people and avoiding a complete backlash from society, was to preserve the regime’s legitimacy in the eyes of the West. This is especially the case for the United States, which provides more than $1 billion in aid to Egypt annually. But even in Belarus, which is on the European Union’s periphery, President Aleksandr Lukashenko did not hesitate to send KGB and Interior Ministry forces to beat protesters and arrest opposition leaders following the country’s recent and disputed presidential election, and he did not need to resort to using the military.

Finally, and most important, the FSU countries are more influenced by Western trends and political developments, such as the wave of color revolutions in the early to mid-2000s that swept through Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan, than by Middle Eastern trends. The period of color revolutions would have been the opportune time for such a political uprising to sweep across the region, but the movement fell short of reaching this goal. Indeed, the pro-Western revolutions in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan have since been reversed, and this movement is not likely to regain momentum in the foreseeable future.

States Not at Risk

The FSU country that has been subject to the most speculation about Egyptian-style unrest unseating the ruling regime is Russia. Many regional and international media outlets have raised the possibility that the opposition protests and journalists that are frequently subject to crackdowns in Russia could fuel the same anger as seen in Egypt. Belarus has also been the subject of such speculation, particularly since its controversial elections. This was the catalyst for Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski’s statement at a recent Belarusian opposition conference hosted in Warsaw that Lukashenko could be ousted just like Mubarak soon will be — a sentiment that has been reiterated by other Western politicians, such as U.S. Sen. John McCain.

But such statements and speculation are a far cry from spelling the overthrow of the regime in either country. The majority of the population in Russia genuinely supports Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev, and the same is generally true of Lukashenko in Belarus, despite marginal pro-Western elements and human rights activists in both countries calling for the ouster of their respective leaders. Furthermore, Putin and Lukashenko are simply too powerful, and each leader has the support of his country’s military and security apparatus.

Other countries, such as Ukraine and Moldova, for all their political chaos and internal issues, have more democratic systems than Egypt through which the public is able to channel its concerns. In Georgia, the situation is similar to that of Russia and Belarus — a strong president with popular support and the backing of the military/intelligence apparatus — while Turkmenistan is for the most part locked away from any meaningful external influence.

Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have aging leaders — Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev is 70, and Uzbek President Islam Karimov is 73 — who have no clear succession plan in place. However, neither country is at serious risk of a popular uprising, as there are no significant opposition groups in these countries and these leaders are genuinely popular among a large segment of their electorates. There could be some serious infighting when either leader steps down or passes away — though this was not seen in Turkmenistan’s leadership change in 2006 — but it is impossible to know when that will happen and it has nothing to do with Egypt. Any revolution or wide-scale uprising in these states is therefore extremely unlikely.

Potential Problem States

Four states in the Caucasus and Central Asia — Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia and Azerbaijan — face more pressure and have more underlying problems for regime stability and security than the states listed above. In addition to the opposition forces that exist in all FSU countries, these countries have the added strains of poor economic conditions and, except for Armenia, banned or suppressed Islamist groups and religious movements. Therefore, protests and opposition forces are more likely to create real problems for the ruling regimes. This is not to say these states will see the same scenario as Egypt; they do not have Islamist groups with the same power or relevance as the Muslim Brotherhood, and do not have the exposure to parliamentary life going back to the early 20th century as Egypt does, for instance. Rather, these countries are more sensitive to such forces, meaning the regimes could crack down harder or change certain policies, and thus are more at risk for potential instability.

Tajikistan is the country to watch most carefully as the lines are blurred between terrorism, religious movements and political unrest. Violence and instability have increased in the country, particularly in the Rasht Valley, since a high-profile prison break in August. This comes as the government has been cracking down on suspects it refers to as Islamist militants, who may in fact be remnants of opposition elements from the country’s 1992-1997 civil war. The government has also been cracking down on Islam by shutting down mosques, preventing students from traveling to Islamic schools abroad and banning Islamic dress. So far there have been no major protests or rallies in the country; discontent has manifested as attacks against security forces. But such social movements cannot be ruled out, especially given Tajikistan’s proximity to the instability in Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan is the only country in Central Asia that has actually experienced revolution recently — two in the past six years, in fact, with countless unsuccessful attempts. Protests are common and ethnic tensions simmer in Kyrgyzstan. Furthermore, the government frequently says Islamist militants pose a threat to the country. Combined with the weakness of the security apparatus, the instability in Kyrgyzstan is such that another revolution or widespread unrest can be sparked by even minor flare-ups.

Azerbaijan has also faced social and opposition pressures since before the Egypt unrest began. In early January, the government had come under pressure over a decision by the education minister to ban the hijab for grade school girls. This sparked protests with attendance in the low thousands in front of the Education Ministry in Baku, with much smaller protests in a few other cities, and eventually caused the government to overturn the decision. The situation has been relatively calm since then in terms of protests, as the government has made public gestures to avoid stirring up the population, though the religion issue remains controversial and has dominated public discourse of late. Outside powers, particularly Iran, which has been attempting to stir unrest in Azerbaijan, have been trying to exploit the issue.

Armenia is not typically prone to large-scale unrest and protests, though recently the country’s opposition, led by former Armenian President and current head of the Armenian National Congress party Levon Ter-Petrosian, has called for a large rally Feb. 18 in Yerevan’s Freedom Square, citing Egypt as an inspiration. According to STRATFOR sources, the opposition would be thrilled with a turnout of 10,000 and would consider it a success even if just a couple of thousand people turned out. That turnout level would be enough to encourage the opposition to continue, as previous protests in the past few months have only drawn crowds in the hundreds. But it is unclear if they will be able to demonstrate at Freedom Square at all, because soon after Ter-Petrosian’s party revealed its protest plans, Yerevan city officials said Freedom Square would be off-limits because it would be the scene of “sporting and cultural events” from Feb. 15 to March 15. While the protest will be a key event worth monitoring closely, the opposition remains a limited force in terms of challenging the ruling authorities, so Armenia is the least at risk of the potential problem states.

Other Impeding Factors

Even considering the factors listed above and assuming that any of these countries are fertile ground for massive unrest — and that is a big assumption — these countries are not ready to translate such unrest into an overthrow of the ruling regime. None of these countries has the military and/or security apparatus needed to initiate or allow a change that would defy Russia’s interests or to enforce and follow through with a regime change. In Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Armenia, the dominant military force is Russia, and the Russian military did not show a willingness to get directly involved in the Kyrgyz situation and will not unless it absolutely has to. Azerbaijan is a different case, but the military is loyal to the regime and has recently signed a strategic partnership with Turkey, whose interest it is to preserve the current government.

The Egypt scenario is therefore not likely to repeat in the FSU. But this is not to say that some FSU countries will not face more indigenous problems that could threaten their political stability and security.”


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