Are the Arab protests spreading and should we fear or welcome them?

Put us in the camp of those who feel that these protests will lead to positive results.  The lack of significant violence and terrorism combined gives us optimism.  When we look at the video, we see normal people trying to better their lot in life. 

It is too early to tell what will be the end game, and we are sure that violent factions within these countries are waiting to bring guns to seize any power vacuum.  But I can't help be moved seeing people express themselves openly and without fear in countries that where political repression is the norm.   Via FP:

The scenes in Cairo yesterday stand as a sharp rebuke to any analytical certainty. The Egyptian regime was fully prepared, its security forces on alert and deployed, the internet disrupted and al-Jazeera largely off the table… and yet tens of thousands of people still poured into the streets and put together one of the largest demonstrations in contemporary Egyptian history.

Tunisia has manifestly inspired people across the region and galvanized their willingness to take risks to push for change, even without any clear leadership from political parties, Islamist movements, or even civil society. The Tunisian example has offered the possibility of success, and models for sustained action by a decentralized network, after a long and dispiriting period of authoritarian retrenchment. Al-Jazeera and the new media have played their role in reshaping political opportunities and narratives, but it is people who have seized those opportunities. And the core weaknesses of these Arab states --- fierce but feeble, as Nazih Ayubi might have said -- have been exposed. They have massively failed to meet the needs of their people, with awesome problems of unemployment, inflation, youth frustration and inequality combined with the near-complete absence of viable formal political institutions.

The protests have been completely outside of and in opposition to any formal political institutions, and are not channeled through any organized political parties which might push for direct political incorporation. Even if other regimes should fall, it is far too soon therefore to say that they will lead to democracy -- in the rest of the region, just as in Tunisia. We should all be thinking carefully, as Steve Heydemann usefully reminds us, about which scenarios might play out and how transitions to democracy might be crafted from this new protest wave.


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