Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tunisia: Is The Arab World Ready For Regime Change?

Some people in Tunisia see their country as the anti-Iraq — a place where regime change proved possible without foreign intervention.
But it's not yet clear that its model of revolution from within will ultimately prove more influential among its authoritarian neighbors than Iraq's experiment with democracy has been so far.
Certainly, leaders throughout the Arab world have taken note of the Jasmine Revolution. Like Tunisia, other countries in North Africa and the Middle East are struggling with high unemployment, rising food prices and dismay about corruption — factors that contributed to unrest in Tunisia.
"This is a moment of near-euphoria in many parts of the Arab world in witnessing what amounted in their minds to a revolution, with the public bringing down an entrenched dictator," says Shibley Telhami, professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland and nonresident senior fellow in Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution.
There have been small demonstrations or self-immolations in countries such as Jordan, Yemen and Algeria.
The Egyptian opposition movement has called for a nationwide protest next week and wants President Hosni Mubarak to dissolve parliament and hold new elections. Like many regional leaders, Mubarak has held power for decades — 30 years in his case — and may come up for election this fall.
There has thus been a great deal of speculation that the revolutionary spirit will spread to other Arab states, but Marc Lynch, who directs the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University, told NPR's Liane Hansen on Weekend Edition Sunday that he's skeptical.
"I think that the other Arab regimes have learned the lesson, and the lesson is not be nicer to your people. It's if you see any sign of protest, stop it right away," he says.
The Element of Surprise
Despite wars and outside geopolitical shocks, no dictatorial Arab regime had given up power prior to Tunisia. Instead, they have broken strikes, jailed opposition figures and displayed little temerity about using violence against their own citizenry.
"Just as the public watches and tries to figure out what it can learn from Tunisia, and can it be replicated," Telhami says, "you also have governments looking at this in a systematic and organized way, asking, 'How can I avoid this?' "
As yet, there is no obvious country where a second Jasmine Revolution appears imminent. Were one to occur, suggests William Zartman, former director of Africa studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, it would be much more violent than the Tunisian event.
"Tunisia benefited from the element of surprise," Zartman says. "Other movements have lost that element, and governments are preparing for them."
How Regimes May Respond
If no copycat revolution appears likely on the immediate horizon, authoritarian leaders throughout the Arab world are likely to factor potential spillover effects from Tunisia into their strategic plans for months and years to come.
They will likely respond in one of several ways — or in some combination — Zartman says. The first would be to crack down, blocking public demonstrations and jailing opposition figures, as already happened in Iran over the past 18 months.

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