Saturday, January 15, 2011

How infectious is the Tunisian experience?

The toppling of Ben Ali's long dictatorship is, to my knowledge, the only time that a dictator in the Arab world has been toppled by popular unrest and the average Abdullah on the street. All other 'revolutions' in the post-colonial Arab world have been mostly by the military as well as by internal scheming and political manouevring. So will this new phenomenon spread to other countries in the Arab world that are facing similar social and economic issues?

Once is a fluke, twice is a trend and whilst what happened in Tunisia is very likely to occur in other countries, particularly Algeria and Egypt, we must also remember that Tunisia can remain an exception. Unless something happens in a country like Egypt, it will be very unlikely that we will find reform imposing itself on the fossilized political regimes of the Arab world. The youthful dynamism and populistic empowerment of Nasserism was the first, albeit questionable, time when Egypt led the way in shaking traditional dictatorships and social structures. With a population of around 80 million people, I think it is Egypt that will provide the critical mass for such change again, much more than Algeria and even with Tunisia as a precursor. This time, the absence of a charismatic leader such as Nasser to lead such changes might even be a good thing.

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