There is a danger in reading too much into the political turbulence that is moving through Egypt, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East and the Maghrib. The unrest may indeed be a precursor to revolution, or if not revolution then a shift in political polarities that will see old regimes and dynasties swept away. Equally these may be part of an ongoing cycle of unrest and disaffection, which will eventually to ebb and populations will return to a fractious equilibrium. The revolution in Tunisia is yet a work in progress, and painful transitions – and realisations – are being worked through. The Tunisian people are discovering that deposing a despised leader does not mean an instant turning-on of the faucet of democracy – neither does it mean that all the supporters of the ancien regime have melted away or switched sides. Some of them will have to be accommodated within any new government, like it or not, and the transition from what was to what may be, is not going to be quick or easy. Notable thus far in the process is the ringing silence from Hilary Clinton, the American Secretary of State, who has yet to congratulate the Tunisian people on their efforts in the direction of democracy.
Egypt is one state where attempts to contain the ripple and prevent wave formation, could fail. Mrs Clinton thinks otherwise, saying on Tuesday that she thought that the Egyptian government was stable. Her evaluation by Wednesday was far less certain as she acknowledged the wave of dissent. She said that Egypt had…”an important opportunity to implement political, economic and social reforms that respond to legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people”. On Thursday there were mass arrests, violence in most of the major towns and cities and a possibly catalytic figure, Mohammed al Baradei, is set for a return by the end of the week. In Lebanon change is in the air as well. The noted commentator on middle eastern affairs Robert
Fisk writing in ‘The Independent’ newspaper in the UK asks…”Could it be, perhaps, that the Arab world is going to choose its own leaders? Could it be that we are going to see a new Arab world which is not controlled by the West?” Within his question is the acknowledgment that many of the governments now experiencing upheaval are western-aligned, have been for decades, and may be on the brink of choosing their own mastery. Were this to be the case then it truly would be a revolution, and whatever the unease being felt in Egypt and Lebanon may be as nothing compared to that being felt in Washington and London. Moving east and looking to ourselves, the symptoms that produced the Tunisian revolt and are fuelling the Egyptian are similar to our own – poverty, corruption, an unpopular government, and dynastic politics. Today’s ripple may be tomorrow’s wave, and revolution is in the air.