After Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia, what comes next?
Pro-democracy warriors in Middle Eastern countries such as Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia push through barriers of fear only to find a constellation of needs, demands, and problems on the other side.
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And those challenges aren't limited to the newly "free," either. In Iraq, where a US military invasion ended the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the experiment with democracy has been messy and tangled since the early years of the American presence. An inconclusive election one year ago only yielded a coalition government under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki after nine months of political horse-trading. And poor services have continued to bedevil Iraqis even while their elected politicians draw salaries of tens of thousands of dollars a month and live in the fortified Green Zone.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Revolutions
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Thousands have turned out for protests across the country, including for a proclaimed "day of rage" on Feb. 25, when several died in clashes with police.
The solution is simple – and authoritarian – for Ayad Ali, an Iraqi Ministry of Interior worker. He told the Monitor in Baghdad before those clashes: "When the Americans occupied Iraq, they should have come with someone who could rule Iraq!"
It is that regional power vacuum that frightens Wided, a college graduate in the southeastern Tunisian town of Zarzis. Flush with the optimism of youth, she is pleased with the result of fallen dictators, who had ruled since long before she was born. She has never known anything – or anyone – else at the top. She is just starting a career in the tourism industry, though the hotel where she works, with its $7-per-night charge, is a modest place to start.
"We are happy they are gone, this is good," she says, as she asks for extra hot sauce on her sandwich in a local shop. "But everyone is scared. They don't know what will come next, or what will happen."
Partly that is because dictatorial rulers imposed from outside – with policies aimed at winning US or European support in exchange for stability – is precisely the grating template now being broken underfoot.
"When these [Arab] countries were created, the people – the citizens – never really had a chance to define their countries or their ideologies," says Rami Khouri, the Lebanon-based director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. "These decisions were made by retreating, half-drunk colonial powers with handpicked local emirs or colonels or notables that they just picked and said: 'You're going to run Iraq,' 'You're going to run Jordan,' " he says about the West's partitioning of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. "There was no consent of the governed."
IN PICTURES: Revolutions
Nearly a century later, shifting to more democratic systems will require finding a careful balance between proclaimed ideals like freedom and dignity, and concrete demands for jobs and better services – a tall order for street opposition movements that have largely been leaderless and disparate.