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Winds of change

Winds of change

Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution has powerful resonances elsewhere in the Arab world, according to this Arab News editorial. And it hasn’t finished whipping up storms yet…

February 2, 2011 3:02 by



We wait to see if 2011 turns out to be for the Arab world what 1848 was for Europe, the Year of Revolutions that brought governments tumbling like dominoes across that continent. Or like 1989 and 1990 when communist regimes collapsed one after another.

What is clear, though, is that winds of change are blowing across the Arab world that no one would have imagined possible just a couple of months ago.

The notion that a whirlwind would be set off by events in Tunisia, of all places, would have been greeted with derision had it been suggested. It was seen as probably the least Arab of Arab countries, a place so Europeanized that it is almost part of a southern Europe. That the flames of protest started there have resonated so powerfully elsewhere, that they have spread so rapidly, speaks not only of common issues too long ignored — corruption, injustice, cronyism and more — but of a new political consciousness in the Arab world — a consciousness driven by new technologies such as the Internet, social network sites and instantly available TV news but based on a very old political idea. That idea is Pan-Arabism.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the driving political ideology in many Arab minds was Nasserite socialism. It claimed to have the answers to the Arabs’ predicaments. When it was seen to have failed, it was replaced by political Islamism. Are we now seeing an end to its appeal?  The demonstrations in Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen and Egypt have not been led by existing political organizations, secular or Islamic.

The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia has been wholly a people’s movement. Islamists had no part in it. In Egypt, the main opposition Islamic Brotherhood was completely sidelined by the speed of public protests. It did not know how to respond. Moreover, the protests are not being replicated in Pakistan or Iran or elsewhere in the wider Muslim world despite known pubic discontent with the state of affairs in such places or despite predictions to that effect from numerous international observers. This is purely an Arab affair. Pan-Arabism is alive and kicking in the Arab street.

All eyes are on Egypt. The situation there is unpredictable but it cannot remain unresolved for long. If President Hosni Mubarak decides to quit before his term of office ends, which so far he appears determined not to do, it will be seen across the Arab world as a victory for the protesters. The protests will spread.

But not everywhere. The Arab world is highly diverse. Libya is not Lebanon. Syria is not Sudan. In particular, it says a great deal about the nature of the Gulf states that they have been wholly immune to the protests. It is not just because they are more prosperous or more conservative societies. It is also because, despite the views of those, particularly in the West, who see representative democracy as the only possible means of involving people in politics, they are much more open, cohesive and united societies. With the majlis system, citizens can have their concerns addressed directly by decision makers. Political legitimacy is not an issue in any of the GCC states. These are crucial differences.

There is, then, no question that winds of change are blowing across the Arab world. They blow unevenly — but where they are seen to blow, they blow powerfully.

–          Arab News



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