by Mouin Rabbani
The extraordinary developments in Tunisia and Egypt during the first six weeks of this year, and more recently in Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and elsewhere, have inaugurated a revolutionary moment in the Arab world not experienced since 1958. If sustained uprisings continue and spread, it has the potential to develop into an Arab 1848. Based on what we have witnessed thus far, the following observations appear relevant:
1. The Arab world is a fundamentally different beast than Eastern Europe during the late 1980s. The latter was ruled by virtually identical regimes, organized within a single collective framework whose individual members were tightly controlled by an outside, crisis-riven power increasingly unable and unwilling to sustain its domination. By contrast, Arab regimes differ markedly in structure and character, the Arab League has played no role in either political integration or socio-economic harmonization, and the United States – still the dominant power in the Middle East – attaches strategic significance to maintaining and strengthening its regional position, as well as that of Israel.
Whereas in Eastern Europe the demolition of the Berlin Wall symbolized the disintegration of not only the GDR but all regimes between the Danube and the USSR, the ouster of Ben Ali in Tunisia did not cause Mubarak’s downfall any more than change in Cairo is producing regime collapse in Libya or leading to the dissolution of the League of Arab States. More to the point, neither the Tunisian nor Egyptian regimes have yet been fundamentally transformed, and may even survive the current upheavals relatively intact. (The nature of the Libyan case is somewhat of an anomaly, with regime survival or comprehensive disintegration the only apparent options.)
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