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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"There are two kinds of demands people have: One is material and practical, like jobs and higher incomes, more water, electricity, telephones, schools. The other is more intangible: being treated with dignity, with equality, being respected as a citizen with rights by your own government," says Mr. Khouri.Skip to next paragraph
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"The biggest challenge is ... to make sufficient progress on two fronts simultaneously that keep people satisfied."
The result, he concludes, could be diverse government systems: "Some [will be] more explicitly democratic, pluralist and electoral. Others will be more designed according to traditional tribal, Arab, collective-identity type institutions, and less Jeffersonian/Westminster parliamentary [styles]."
Few expert observers expect instant gratification. Creating jobs and a culture of accountable government while bureaucratic systems often remain will not be easy. Who – in the opposition, or any other sector – can take or provide effective leadership in such uncertain times is not clear.
"Political space has been pried open to a degree unprecedented in the lifetimes of those who took to the streets," concludes a late-February analysis by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG).
"Should Egypt experience a difficult, painful or unstable phase, or the socioeconomic grievances that fueled much discontent remain unaddressed, many in the region could take a second – far less favorable – look at what just occurred," notes ICG. "Disillusionment, too, can be infectious."
For those who embrace participation, expectations can spiral out of control. Any collapse of hope was the last thing on the mind of Iraqi voter Vian Othman, who in February 2005 showed the visceral power of casting her ballot in Iraq's first post-Saddam election, under the careful watch of the US military and an American-engineered transitional authority.
"We want to live," Ms. Othman told the Monitor after emerging from a polling station with tears rolling down her face. She said she avenged the death of her father at the hands of the former regime by casting her single ballot. The act was so important that she – like millions of Iraqis – braved suicide bombings, mortar attacks, and insurgent threats to kill every voter.
"Freedom and happiness and victory," Othman sobbed. "We were a little bit afraid [before coming], but we put courage in our hearts."
And yet there are cautionary tales of such enthusiasm and the risks of popular revolt that emerged from such places as post-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia.
In November 2003, Georgians protesting a rigged election took to the streets in their "Rose Revolution," and – while hoisting a model of the Statue of Liberty and holding American flags – brought to power the US-educated opposition leader Mikheil Saakashvili. Despite his democratic credentials and economic reforms, by 2007 Mr. Saakashvili was declaring a state of emergency and closing down independent media to stamp out opposition protests.
The "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine in 2004, likewise, swept opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko into power, when tens of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets to protest a rigged election victory of the despised Russian-backed candidate, Viktor Yanukovich. Bitter infighting among opposition leaders, though, disgusted Ukrainians to the point where they dumped the opposition in February 2010, electing Mr. Yanukovich president.