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Global Viewpoint

Regime change in Syria and Iran will come only if people unite as in Libya

The citizenry in Iran and Syria must take up their own collective responsibility and shake off fear to depose their dictators, as the people did in Libya. Democracy promotion from outside simply isn't practical or effective.

By Ramin Jahanbegloo / August 23, 2011


When future generations look back, they will remember 2011 as the year of the end of dictators in the Middle East and the Maghreb. Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi appears to have now joined the Middle East parade of despots rejected by an uprising. Practically nine months after Tunisia’s President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted after 23 years of authoritarian rule and the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was thrown out of power by a few weeks of protests in Tahrir Square, Qaddafi is at the end of his reign after 42 years of dictatorship.

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The year, 2011, could indeed be considered the starting point of a paradigm shift in the Middle East that will bring the downfall of the remaining despots in the region while restructuring the way energy resources are priced and supplied around the globe.

However positive regime change may be in the longer term, the short-term social and political consequences are likely to be quite challenging. It goes without saying that the overthrow of dictatorial regimes in the Maghreb and the Middle East will have proven easy compared to the difficult and uncertain establishment of secular and democratic governments.

So far, the remaining authoritarian regimes in the region such as Iran and Syria have sought to insulate themselves from an Egypt-like scenario. They continue to practice a high degree of violence against their opposition, believing they can hold onto power as long as they succeed in terrorizing their citizens.

As we’ve seen in recent months, that tried-and-true strategy that has worked for decades no longer does. Yet, since they have no other option, these regimes nonetheless brutally pursue it.

Mr. Qaddafi, Mr. Mubarak, Mr. Ben Ali, Syria's Bashar al-Assad, and those like them have long professed to be the beloved leaders of their people while holding their people by their throats. They have all shared two characteristics: the use of extreme violence against dissidents and protesters and unfulfilled promises. However, if there is one thing history teaches us, especially of late, it is that there is a limit to sheer brutality practiced by a despot against his people. In the end, a dictator cannot jail, execute, or exile such an enormous number of his people while also inspiring loyalty.

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