Are North Koreans Welcomed Home After Witnessing Arab Revolts?

Nov 2, 2011 9:13am

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il may not want his people working in the Arab countries to return home fearing the spread of  the Jasmine Revolution in his own nation, according to analysts and officials in South Korea.

There are estimated hundreds of North Korean officials, doctors, nurses, and construction workers stranded in Libya, Egypt and Yemen that experienced a wave of revolutionary protests this year.

 ”We can’t confirm whether Pyongyang actually ordered no return, but it’s clear that they must be deeply worried that word will spread if and when these people come back,” said Min-Suk Kim, spokesperson for South Korea’s Ministry of Defense.

 South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo, Yonhap News Agency, and anti-North Korean interest groups have reported since May citing anonymous sources, that these North Korean workers are stuck in Arab countries after orders from Pyongyang to stay.

 ”North Korean people have no idea that Moammar Gadhafi is dead,” noted Yong-Hyun Kim, professor of North Korean studies at Dongkuk University in Seoul, referring to the fact that Pyongyang’s official mouthpiece Rodong Newspaper and Korean Central News Agency have not mentioned a word yet.

 But many North Korea watchers believe chances for Jasmine Revolution taking off in the hermit kingdom are very slim. “Unlike the Arab countries, there is no concept of civil society from the grass roots level in the North,” pointed out Sung-Han Kim, professor of international studies at Korea University.

 Internet and mobile phone access is scarce and limited to people with permissions from the regime. The latest number of mobile phones reached 400,000,  only 1.6 percent of the total population of 24 million.

 ”Most people… who have a mobile phone are very careful of what they say because they believe everything is being listened to,”  Peter Hughes who served as U.K. ambassador to Pyongyang from 2008 to 2011, told reporters in Seoul in September. He had also pointed out that there is no “center of dissent” or “intellectual groupings” possible in the North.

 The question whether North Korea will be the next to carry on the democratic revolutionary waves all depends on “how much and how long its leader Kim Jong-Il will survive,” said Sung-Han Kim. “It may come tomorrow, we never know. But any sort of political unrest will not come from the bottom in North Korea. It will be from a crack in the elite level after Kim is gone.”

 ABC News’ Seoyoung Cho and Sooyun Yum contributed to this report.

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