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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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The foundation of that respect he described this way: "I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed ... the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere."

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Indeed, polling over the past decade, says Mr. Zogby of the AAI, consistently finds that "[Arabs] like America, the American people and culture." But what hasn't changed on the ground is that "they hate [US] policy and they hate the fact that their governments are supporting these policies."

The result has been greater distance between rulers seen to support US policy, and the ruled who resent it. In 1979 for example, when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed the Camp David peace accord with Israel, the subsequent protests and crackdown against it eventually led to some 24,000 arrests, says Zogby. And militant anger eventually led to the assassination of Mr. Sadat – the event that brought then-Vice President Mubarak to power in 1981.

Current protests have changed US fortunes yet again.

"I think it's a different game out there. Leaders are going to get closer to the people, because they realize that, frankly, it hasn't paid – the security that they sought from the US has only made them less secure," says Zogby.

The demands on the streets could not be more insistent, nor the expectations greater among the angry legions who have seen fit – after decades of subservience to authoritarian leadership – to collectively reach for a new and democratic future. What is meant by the word "democracy" will be grappled with – because after all the buildup of slogans, for some it will mean a roads-paved-with-gold sense that every desire will now to be fulfilled.

Despite the inevitable comedown, these changes are probably the most significant development in the Arab world in nearly a century, though the outcome remains uncertain – and the timeline will extend for many years.

"It's a process. Remember it took the Europeans 500 years to get from the Magna Carta to the French Revolution. These things don't happen overnight," says Khouri.

And there are unexpected signs of hope. After decades under the suffocating one-man rule of Saddam Hussein, for example, Iraqis quite easily found the ability to conduct elections – even if their elected politicians couldn't keep from bickering over the results.

In Egypt, even during the uprising, when police disappeared from the streets, volunteer Egyptians directed traffic, formed ad hoc neighborhood protection committees, and sought to keep essential services running.

In Libya, despite four decades under Mr. Qaddafi, when the east of the country fell to antiregime forces, volunteers stepped up to do everything from scrubbing courthouse toilets to protecting banks.

Former Libyan officials and military officers who defected early to the opposition had, by the end of February, declared an interim government to rule until Qaddafi's remaining strongholds and the capital Tripoli might fall.

"I'm very optimistic. These Arab societies have somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 years of history governing themselves and their societies," notes Khouri. "So it's not as if we are teaching them new skills. We're just trying to give them the opportunity to show us what they know."

Sarah Lynch contributed to this report from Al Maraziq, Egypt.


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