From Libya to Bahrain, Mideast autocracy under fire
After Egypt set Arab imaginations alight, autocrats from Qaddafi to the Khalifa dynasty face an assault unparalleled since the post-World War II revolutions that brought independence.
The stunning victories of Tunisians and Egyptians in ousting their entrenched dictators have set imaginations alight across the Middle East like nothing since Gamal Abdul Nasser's fiery anticolonial rhetoric in the 1950s.Skip to next paragraph
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"We assumed that if one day an uprising emerged, it would be at the hands of a bold leader. Another strongman to replace the ones we didn't like," wrote popular Jordanian blogger Naseem Tarawnah in a letter of thanks to the Egyptian people. "Never, in our wildest imaginations, did we think this uprising would come from the people. Whatever happens, this ... is something no one can take away from them, or from us. It has been embedded in our memories."
Now, the beleaguered ship of Middle Eastern autocracy is under an assault unparalleled since the post-World War II revolutions that brought independence to much of the region.
It is not so much the aspirations that are new, but a shared spirit of hope that success is possible against long odds. It's a feeling that is unlikely to dissipate quickly and could fundamentally reshape the region – though how democratic the changes will be remains to be seen.
"It would be wrong to say that Tunisia or Egypt ignited a new pattern of protest or generated new expectations ... they've existed, but the organizers in many of these countries sense a new opportunity," says Toby Craig Jones, a historian of the Middle East at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
"There's this talk about a new Pan-Arabism, a new nationalist moment – I'm not sure that's right yet, but there is a perception that people across international borders are aware they have a common experience and interests given the autocrats and economic challenges they share, so whatever it is that exists up in the stratosphere, it's meaningful," Dr. Jones adds, referring to the spirit of revolt in the region.
Protests pose quandary for US
Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, and Iran have all witnessed democracy protests in recent weeks, throwing into disarray America's decades-old regional policy of supporting autocrats in exchange for stability.