Vote Ochi – a Grexit foretold

grexitOn Sunday Greece takes a historic vote on whether to accept an EU bailout. It is important not because of its knock-on impact to the world economy which will easily recover any losses (markets work on sentiment and sentiment is unfaithful and forgetful). It is important because Greece is offering a template to take genuine power from the technocrats and hand it back to the people – appropriately in the country where democracy was invented. The referendum execution is leaving much to be desired but the intention is clear and a worry for politicians across the world who believe voters cannot be trusted to make the right decision in complex matters.

Greece’s referendum is certainly complex. As I write on Saturday morning Australian time – less than 48 hours from when polls open – the exact question voters are deciding on remains obscure while a constitutional challenge to the referendum was not defeated until yesterday. That gives only a day to get millions of ballot papers out to every part of the remote countryside and each of its islands. If that sounds like a fiasco in the making it probably is, nevertheless the need for a speedy resolution is real and the Greeks themselves fully understand what is at stake.

The question is hard, but the answer is simple, yes or no. The discussion that has gone for weeks across Greece is based on these binary opposites. The “yes” vote (confusingly to western ears “né”) is a vote to accept the continued medicine of years of austerity and low growth. It is “the devil you know” and an easy choice to ensure many more years of what Greece has endured since 2009, but within the euro. The yes vote is supported by most of Greece’s centrist political parties, the business community and Greece’s EU partners.

The no vote (transliterated as “ochi” or “oxi”) is more of a leap into the unknown. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has hitched his Syriza government to ochi, demanding the forgiveness of a third of Greece’s massive debt and delayed payment on the rest. Syriza came from nowhere in 2014 to win government because they could articulately plot a future that extricated Greece from its problems, foreign debts that even decades of austerity would not clear. One early joke was that Syriza would counterclaim Germany for $250 billion of Second World War reparations to Greece.

But Tsipras’s bargaining chip was simple: give us relief or we stop paying. The ultimate action in this game of bluff is creditors would throw Greece out of the euro zone, which Syriza claims it does not want to happen. Yet this is the path “ochi” takes us on, a fact the people know regardless of how Tsipras frames the question. The prime minister has complicated his gambit by increasing the stakes. Syriza has pledged its future on the people voting no on Sunday. If the ‘né’ vote wins, then Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis will resign and the government will fall.

Nevertheless you can expect weasel room, as three results are possible: a strong yes victory, a weak yes victory and a no victory. Europe is hoping for a strong yes vote, one that keeps Greece just inside its monetary tent but placed on the naughty step for the foreseeable future. Greece would pull back from the brink and a managerialist government would replace Syriza and implement the wishes of Berlin paymasters.

That’s if there is a strong win but what the polls are predicting is a weak yes win. That could leave Greece in status quo, Syriza or some proxy paying creditors till kingdom come in endless last minute negotiations that only whittle away at the edges while grumbles slowly simmer. The path could be clear for a far right government (such as Golden Dawn, which supports the referendum) to blame the weakest in Greek society for their problems and replace austerity with authoritarianism.

A ‘no’ vote is the clearest of outcomes. It will set the country on the Grexit path, certainly from the monetary union, and probably the political union. The technocrats will never admit it but European Monetary Policy is set for political reasons not financial reasons. It loosens some trade barriers but tightens others. Britain stayed out not because of the nationalistic braying of its press but because it saw how London would lose control of its destiny. Each country in the euro zone gives away its central or reserve bank and hands monetary policy to Brussels. The European Central Bank sets its main lever – interest rates – to the needs of its core constituency, Germany.

Though Germany was badly scarred by the GFC, it remains a massive and diverse economy with a well-educated workforce. The price of the euro reflects these factors. The lack of a drachma means not only that Greeks lose out on the cost of transferring currency (tourists love all countries on the euro), and remains expensive to visit, but a Greek exporter has no benefit over German exporters in currency fluctuation.

Leaving the euro may not save Greece from itself but it might save Greece from Europe. Tsipras should be applauded for trusting the electorate to make that decision and not leave it in the hands of faceless technocrats. I wish the country well, and look forward to a good exchange rate on the drachma.

Mark every box when you vote

Tomorrow the breakneck speed summer election campaign comes to an end.

We go the polls, enjoy a snag and elect the MPs that will form the next parliament of Queensland. Despite the increasingly presidential style of elections, we don’t actually vote for a leader but for a member to represent local interests in George Street, and long may that continue. Yet we do have a say in who forms government.

No one can say who will lead Queensland next week. The polls suggest Campbell Newman will lose his seat in Brisbane but the LNP government will hang on (if Newman does not accept this possibility, I suggest he take some remedial maths classes).  What is certain that either the LNP or Labor will form government next week, so people should remember that fact when they go to the polls, and vote all the way down the line choosing one or other of those major parties.

Yesterday I published an article on the Gatton Star which had Pauline Hanson urging voters to understand the electoral system so they can make an informed choice. I agree with Hanson however I disagree with One Nation’s and Katter Party’s how to vote card. They preferenced each other only but they should have been more honest with voters and ranked all candidates 1 to 6. That way we could have judged which of the major parties they want to see in government.

It’s a shame civics is no longer taught in schools as it gives people a useful primer on how our system of democracy works. Why does that matter? Well, because, voting is compulsory for one, and secondly politicians spend our taxpayer dollars and make important decisions that affect all our lives.

You’ll have noticed our Gatton Star website top heavy with political stories over the last few weeks and I don’t make any apologies for that.

We’ve also mainly covered local issues and local seats and I don’t apologise for that either. All politics is local and we’ve been fortunate here in the Lockyer and Brisbane Valleys to have candidates who have a real passion for local matters as well as keeping an eye on what is happening across Queensland.

If I have an apology, it is to the voters of Nanango, which I afraid we’ve not covered as well as I would have liked. I said at the start of the campaign the LNP’s Deb Frecklington would retain that seat and I believed she would be a senior minister if the LNP retains power, which will be great for the wider region. Nothing I have seen in the last three weeks make me change my mind.

The other two seats are less clear cut as shown in the candidate forums in Ipswich and Gatton this week. Ipswich West polling suggests Jim Madden is about to reclaim that seat from the LNP’s Sean Choat. Choat played up to his reputation as a maverick at the forum and launched a spirited defence of his time as local member. Choat is likeable, approachable and young and I hope he continues to stay in politics and demonstrate his independent streak. In contrast Madden and his fellow Labor candidate for Ipswich Jennifer Howard played it safe in their forum speeches knowing the seat is now theirs to lose. I would welcome Madden in the new parliament as a rare Labor politician who understands rural issues and I hope he becomes an advocate for the bush in the party room and on the floor of parliament.

Over in Lockyer, the seat has become second only to Ashgrove for intrigue. Most of this can be put down to the entry of Pauline Hanson on the ballot paper. Hanson has come a long way from the fish and chip shop owner in Ipswich who bagged Asians and Indigenous people to win the seat of Oxley in 1996 as a disendorsed liberal. Hanson’s views these days are more mature but I disagree with her on halal certification and multiculturalism. In the election she has steadfastly stuck to state issues apart from her people’s forum in Gatton last week where I was unimpressed by her fellow panellists who used the occasion to sprout conspiracy theories about climate change and the UN taking over the world.

Hanson however I could not fault. She was gracious, thoughtful and always willing to listen to others. She is inspirational to supporters and has a great connection with the audience who listened rapt to every word she said. If I have one criticism it is her tendency for a victim complex, but she is clearly a compelling figure. I believe that Hanson is playing a long game and sees herself as Prime Ministerial material.

That is a laudable ambition but the problem is she does not belong to a major party. Only a Labor or Liberal MP will become Prime Minister any time in the near future. It’s the same with Premier. So my only advice when you voting in Lockyer is this. Mark all six boxes.

Mark Craig Gunnis of the Palmer Party last. Gunnis is a fly-in candidate who works for Palmer and he showed great disrespect by claiming a “prior engagement” to avoid scrutiny at the Gatton forum. Mark one of the minor parties 1, 2 and 3 depending on your personal preference for Hanson, Katter’s Neuendorf or the policies of the Greens.

But think hard about your choice for 4 or 5. Will it be Labor’s Steve Leese or the LNP’s Ian Rickuss? That’s your call. But only the LNP or Labor will form government and ultimately you need to decide who you prefer. Think about that as you put pencil to paper.  That, and support your P&C by buying a snag or a cupcake.

Protect or Respect: Burma’s constitutional challenge

The wording of an oath is the pawn in a dangerous Burmese power game as newly elected democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi flexes her muscles. Her party the National League for Democracy refused to allow its newly elected members to be sworn in at the parliamentary opening in Naypyidaw yesterday. The party made an overhaul of the Constitution one of its principal promises in the recent by-election but the ruling party is refusing to change the oath. Suu Kyi claims this is not a boycott but rather just “waiting for the right time” to go to parliament. The catch is they need to sit in parliament to have any chance of getting their reforms through and some are questioning whether Suu Kyi has picked the right issue to make a stance.
The stand-off comes several weeks after the by-elections which saw the NLD win 40 of the 44 seats it contested. The victory was seen as a transformative moment in Burmese politics but the party remains a small minority in the upper and lower houses of parliament. The by-elections and the gradual opening of Burmese democracy have been driven by president Thein Sein who came to office in March 2011 as the former prime minister and handpicked successor of Than Shwe.

Shwe and Sein are military men but the US used the promotion of the latter to press for reforms. In return the US would ease crippling sanctions and urge its allies to do the same. Sein released Suu Kyi from house arrest and released political prisoners in exchange for diplomatic relations. Sein gave his first foreign interview in January to the Washington Post and said they not only wanted to engage with the NLD but also with the 11 ethnic groups Burma was at war with. Sein brought up the constitution to defend the right of the president to appoint the commander in chief of the armed forces. But Wapo did not follow up with a question of the validity of that constitution.

Burma has been independent since 1947 but its original constitution was torn up the military when Ne Win who came to power in a 1962 coup. The generals orchestrated a second constitution in 1974 but even that was too liberal for the military rulers who seized power in 1988 and they abolished it with along with the offices of cabinet, judiciary and local councils. They ruled without a constitution until 2008 forced to enact new under a supposed “roadmap to democracy”. Outside observers judged it a sham, not least because it reserves a quarter of all seats for the military and prevented Suu Kyi from attaining the presidency due to her non-Burmese husband.
The issue Suu Kyi is most worried about now is the oath to defend that constitution.  The NLD wants the oath to be reworded from “abide by and protect the Constitution” to “abide by and respect the Constitution.” Burmese activist Min Zin said the NPD were picking the wrong battle. “Vowing to uphold and abide the constitution does not mean that the opposition can’t try to amend it later,” Zin said. “A quick look at the texts of other countries’ oaths of office shows that words like uphold and even defend are commonly used, but such language has never prevented anyone from proposing constitutional amendments.”
The question is why Suu Kyi is making an issue out of it now. She was aware of the oath of office prior to the election and should have mentioned it in the campaign. A more likely reason would be to try to slow down the West’s normalisation of relations until there is more substantive progress. On the same day as the parliamentary boycott, the EU agreed to suspend most sanctions against Burma for a year.
Burmese exiles say the West is going too fast. Soe Aung of the Forum for Democracy in Burma said the EU has suspended sanctions knowing its own benchmarks on Burma have not been met: the unconditional release of all political prisoners and a cessation of attacks against ethnic minorities. The suspension allows European companies to invest in Burma, which has significant natural resources and borders economic giants China and India. British PM David Cameron said changes were not yet irreversible, “which is why it is right to suspend rather than lift sanctions for good.” Yet it seems highly unlikely once opened, big business would allow the door to be shut again. Only the immense counterweight of Suu Kyi’s reputation stands between the Burmese Government and Western spoils of commerce without the inconvenience of a public reckoning.

China diffident about dissident Ai Weiwei

A terse statement yesterday from Chinese news agency Xinhua revealed the news. The Beijing police department said Ai Weiwei had been released on bail because of “his good attitude in confessing his crimes as well as a chronic disease he suffers from”. Xinhua quoted police who said the decision to release Ai also took into account he had “repeatedly said he is willing to pay the taxes he evaded”. The same source said Ai’s Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd, had “evaded a huge amount of taxes and intentionally destroyed accounting documents.”

The 54-year-old dissident artist’s release after 81 days in detention raises more questions than it answers. There is no word on whether he was formally charged or tried except Ai’s release comes with a caveat: a year-long probation that prohibits him from leaving Beijing without government permission. “I’m sorry I can’t talk,” Ai told friends and reporters outside his Beijing home and studio hours after his release. “I am on probation, please understand.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Ai was still under investigation for unspecified offences. His “obtaining a guarantee pending a trial” can last up to 12 months, according to Hong. “Ai is still in the investigation period for suspected crimes,” he said. “He is not allowed to leave where he lives, cannot interfere (with) other people’s testimony, [and] cannot fabricate evidence nor collaborate with others to make false confession.”

Ai was arrested on 3 April and detained for “inciting subversion” to which later was added “economic crimes.” The real reason was retaliation for a long record of social and political activism. Ai Weiwei rose to international prominence in the mid 1990s. A graduate of the Beijing Film Academy, he lived in the US in the 1980s studying design and building his art portfolio. In 1993 he came home due to his father’s illness and established an experimental artists’ village. In 2000, he curated a Shanghai exhibition of 46 avant-garde artists called “fuck off” which allegedly featured self-mutilation, human corpses and body parts as well as cannibalism and was the subject of a Scotland Yard investigation. Shanghai police were not impressed either and closed the exhibition down before the finish date.

By 2005 the BBC called him “one of the stars of China’s art world” with work appearing in exhibitions across the world. Ai told the British broadcaster he had not held a solo show in China as the country was “not yet ready.” Ai was also experimenting at the bounds of political expression expressing negative comments about the Olympics (despite designing the Bird’s Nest stadium) and supporting an investigation into heavy casualties of the Sichuan earthquake. In 2009 he was beaten up by police when he tried to testify for dissident Tan Zuoren sentenced to five years for trumped-up state subversion charges when he tried to investigate the earthquake.

The authorities stepped up their harassment as Ai became a more vocal critic of the regime. Last year, he was stopped at Beijing’s airport from flying to South Korea because authorities feared he might go to Oslo to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for his friend Liu Xiaobo. Then they ordered a demolition of his Shanghai studio saying it was built illegally. Ai decided to hold a party to mark the demolition and issued an open invite to attend via Twitter. On the day of the party national security officers placed him under house arrest. “They came last night and tried to interview me, saying I should not do it because it was getting too big,” he said. “This is the general tragedy of this nation. Everything has to be dealt with by police. It is like you use an axe to do all the housework because this is the only tool you have.”

The party went ahead without Ai who was released two days later. The studio was demolished in January and Ai was arrested in April. Chinese authorities were paranoid the contagion of Middle Eastern revolutions might spread to their country, revolutions Ai supported. In the weeks after mid-February, China arrested 26 people, while 30 more disappeared presumed held by security forces, and 200 were placed under “soft detention.” Ai was arrested without explanation and with no communication to family or friends. Police blocked off the streets to his studio and took away laptops and the hard drive from the main computer, and detained eight staff members and his wife Lu Qing for questioning.

Initially claiming his arrest was due to issues with his travel documentation, authorities changed their tune citing “economic crimes”. Financial fraud has been convenient catch-all to shut down opponents of the regime. Ai’s 78-year-old mother, Gao Ying denounced the government line. “Economic crimes! They say one thing now and another later. It’s ridiculous,” she said. “They must tell the family why and where they are holding my son? They have no right to keep us guessing. Where is the Constitution? Where is the law?”

Art groups created the protest “1,001 Chairs for Ai Weiwei” to call for artists to bring chairs to Chinese embassies and consulates around the world on 17 April “to sit peacefully in support of the artist’s immediate release.” Other museums and cultural organisations around the world signed an online petition expressing concern for “Ai’s freedom and disappointment in China’s reluctance to live up to its promise to nurture creativity and independent thought.” As Ai’s release yesterday proved, China’s “promise” comes with strings attached.

The slow lingering death of journalism

Not everyone seems impressed, but in my view Lindsay Tanner raised substantive points in his interview with Leigh Sales this week in the 7.30 Report. Tanner was arguing from his new book Sideshow where he says the media are largely to blame for the shoddy state of our polity. The argument was never fully teased out. The interviewer took the adversarial role of blaming the politicians for the problem and the issue of media behaviour was ignored.

Sales didn’t address the problems Tanner raised: “gotcha journalism”, the treatment of gaffes, the trivialisation of politics as a game, and the glorification of the aggrieved whenever reform is proposed. Instead she took the easy line, pushing back on the duty of the politician to rise above the shackles the media has imposed. As Kerryn Goldsworthy pointed out, it was a textbook example of the problem Tanner was describing.

Sales kept asking why politicians couldn’t rise above it, but never once explored the other half of the problem, or even acknowledge it existed. It is as if the commodification of news is a taboo topic, which is somewhat understandable. After all, what media will admit to its audience the inconvenient fact they are part of the problem they are analysing?

Certainly none of the media organisations that spent millions of dollars giddily covering Friday’s Royal Wedding would make any such admission. As Dan Rather pointed out, we should remember this next time a media company closes a bureau or is unable to cover a “foreign story with full force”. This week-long extravaganza saw hundreds of journalists stationed in Green Park seeking mind-numbing excreta on the edges of the wedding. The one snippet I caught of Channel 7’s Sunrise on Wednesday morning featured an in depth article on Kate Middleton’s stripper cousin or to use the parlance beloved of media pretending not to be prudish while being prurient, Middleton’s “saucy cousin”.

I don’t blame the journalists. Short of News of the World tactics and hacking the Royals’ phone service, they are not going to get an exclusive royal story outside the long lens. They’re hard working hacks who devote their talents to a Kevin Bacon game finding news in saucy strippers two irrelevant stages removed from another irrelevancy. The only newsworthy elements of the Royal Wedding are the fuss over the Bahraini ambassador, the snub to Blair and Brown, and the censoring of the Chaser’s attempt to satirise the wedding. Tanner’s Sideshow has moved into centre stage.

The problem is, as Robert McChesney puts it, media companies are a government sanctioned oligopoly, owned by a few highly profitable corporate entities. They guard their privilege through legislative influence and control of news coverage; they distort understanding of media issues. According to Eric Beecher it is a convergence of economic, technological and societal trends threatening “quality media” in an unprecedented way. He blames a media obsession with celebrity, fame, trivia and lifestyles as serious analysis cannot attract a broad constituency “without large dollops of celebrity gossip and soft lifestyle coverage.”

The Royal Wedding is easy news – controllable, glamorous and unthreatening. No journalist is taking chances like Mohammad Nabous or Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros. These men died trying to communicate things people don’t want you to know. But as Lindsay Tanner points out, the companies they work for don’t want you to know either. The model is borked. Investigative and analytical journalism do not pay their way. With the ABC entrenched in the status quo, only the unpaid fifth estate is showing any interest in saving democracy. But without the power and kudos of the fourth, I don’t fancy their chances.

House of Saud on the verge of a nervous breakdown

Sooner or later the protests that have racked the Middle East and North Africa will affect the most undemocratic regime of them all, Saudi Arabia. Arguably that has already happened. Absolute monarch King Abdullah is now 86. Aware of his own vulnerability, he gave away over $36 billion in benefits to lower and middle income Saudis last week. He also granted thousands of civil servants job security and said he would reshuffle the cabinet. Abdullah rushed back to the country after months of hospitalisation and recuperation in the US and Morocco to make these announcements. No one is under any illusion he wasn’t panicked into action by the wave of protests across the region that threatened to roll across his equally undemocratic border.

Abdullah’s bribery will keep the protesters at home for now and the illegality of political parties and public protest are a deterrent. Yet resistance to the power of the Sauds is growing slowly.
The Saudiwoman blog says the country is “still on the train heading to revolution town.” The young are unhappy with large-scale unemployment and the conservative grip of the religious police, she said.
Older generations are fed up with the corruption, nepotism and the disappearance of the middle class.Activists are calling for protests on 11 and 20 March but may be frustrated by police. They stymied two attempts to stage protests in Jeddah last month arresting 30 to 50 people. Saudi blogger Ahmed al-Omran said authorities were watching closely what people were saying on Facebook and Twitter. “They are anxious as they are surrounded with unrest and want to make sure we don’t catch the bug,” al-Omran said. 

Western leaders are also keen the Saudis don’t catch the bug. In 2007 British foreign office minister Kim Howells infamously talked about Britain and Saudi Arabia’s “shared values”. Meanwhile in October 2010, the US Obama Administration kept the Carter Doctrine alive with the sale of $60.5 billion worth of arms to the KSA which was the biggest arms sale in American history. According to an Israeli study of the sale, the package was totally offensive in nature, with its attack planes, helicopters, and “bunker-buster” bombs, and designed to show the US would stand strongly by its allies. ‘US officials have also begun to refer to the “Persian Gulf” as the “Arabian Gulf,” a hot-button issue for the Iranians,’ the study said.

The financial world is also less interested in the democratic desires of ordinary Saudis than the fate of light sweet crude oil futures. Crude was trading at $97.25 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange yesterday having spiked since the start of the year. This has more to do with Libya and issues in Oman and Bahrain but Saudi Arabia remains pivotal to production with the world’s largest reserves. Saudi Aramco have stepped up production since the Libyan revolution started but as the Financial Times points out, oil-dominated economies create few jobs, “especially if they support a bloated royal family that affects not to understand where a privy purse ends and a public budget begins”.

Abdullah’s successor in the agnatic seniority preferred by 7000-strong royal family is his half-brother Crown Prince Sultan. Sultan, 82 or possibly 86, is just as old, just as unhealthy and just as corrupt as Abdullah. Behind them comes the conservative autocrat Prince Nayef who abhors the idea of reform. The monarchy survived the 20th century thanks to the black gold they controlled and their alliance with the Wahhabists who control religious affairs. The end of the carbon economy would have killed them anyway but with everyday Saudis unwilling to wait, the days of authority of both these ancient institutions are likely to be numbered.

Algeria’s disaffected find their voice

“Acts of violence don’t win wars. Neither wars nor revolutions. Terrorism is useful as a start. But then, the people themselves must act. That’s the rationale behind this strike: to mobilise all Algerians, to assess our strength,” Larbi Ben M’hidi The Battle of Algiers (1966)

The wave of people power revolutions shaking North Africa has now washed over Algeria. There is something circular in this, as Algeria was the scene of the first protests this year which spread to Tunisia and then to Egypt. Yesterday 2,000 protesters marched in Algiers’ May First Square where they overcame a security cordon to meet up with other protesters despite being vastly outnumbered by 30,000 riot police. Protesters want democratic freedoms, a change of government and more jobs. They are determined to remain peaceful and not react to police provocation despite being banned by a nervous government.
The Algerian Government is attempting to keep power it stole two decades ago. In December 1991, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won an election, smashing the FLN which ruled Algeria since independence from France in 1962. Their slogan was “No Constitution and no laws. The only rule is the Koran and the law of God.” A month later the army declared a state of emergency, overturned the result and formed a collective presidency known as the High State Council. The FIS was stripped of its victory, declared illegal and its leaders jailed. The move sparked a civil war which lasted ten years and cost 200,000 lives. The army cemented power as the standard of living slowly lifted with new oil finds. Algeria has estimated oil reserves of nearly 12 billion barrels, attracting strong interest from foreign firms. Although political violence in Algeria has declined, the country has been shaken by bombings carried out by a group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Land of Islamic Maghreb. Poverty remains widespread and unemployment high, with 30 percent of Algeria’s youth without work.On 9 January, major protests broke out over food prices and unemployment, and three people were killed in clashes with security forces. The demonstrations started in the poor western suburbs of Algiers. They grew in intensity spreading to the country’s second largest city, Oran. Then the unrest spread to the working-class district of Bab El Oued in central Algiers. Other working-class districts of the capital followed suit as well as the cities of Tipaza, Annaba and Tizi-Ouzou.

The Algerian cabinet agreed to lower custom duties and cut taxes on sugar and other food stuffs by two-fifths as a temporary act. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika also promised to repeal the hated 1992 state of emergency law. The decision was greeted with cautious optimism but rejuvenated opposition groups vowed to keep the pressure up. The Rally for Culture and Democracy said they would proceed with a protest on 12 February. In a statement last week they said authorities resorted to political manoeuvres and discord rather than respond to “legitimate aspirations and demands for changing the political regime that destroyed the country and enslaved the people.”

RCD leader Saïd Sadi said Saturday’s demonstrations were spontaneous. The decision of Hosni Mubarak to flee Egypt on Friday has galvanised the Algerian opposition movement. On Saturday demonstrators waved front pages of newspapers showing the Egyptian news and shouted “Bouteflika out!” Reports say 400 protesters including four MPs have been arrested. The government claimed it banned the march for public order reasons not to stifle dissent. But as other regional leaders have found to their cost, dissent has a strong mind of its own.