Will the successful Tunisian revolt or Egyptian unrest lead to more democratic, stable, and moderate regimes?Or is it the beginning of dangerously unpredictable events in the Arab world that could endanger peace or lead to an ascendance of Islamic regimes?
It is next to impossible to predict the course of mass activism and protests in these volatile environments. But there are reasons to think that the fall of authoritarian regimes by mainly young and frustrated protesters will not necessarily lead to a catastrophic outcome.
Many Arab and non-Arab observers cannot help but remember the example of Iran in the 1970s, when an authoritarian regime was replaced by a much more brutal, dangerous, and intolerant religious dictatorship. But there is one obvious difference between Tunisia and Egypt at this stage and the 1979 Iranian uprising that led to an Islamic Revolution. In these two Arab countries, Islamic groups (neither moderate nor extremist) are not leading the revolts. Certainly, Islamic elements are present among the demonstrators, but it is not Islamic political ideology or leaders inspiring the protesters.
The protesters are mainly young people who have personal and national aspirations, which they believe they can never achieve under authoritarian and corrupt rule. Contrary to the impression Islamic fundamentalism has created in the last decade, most young Arabs do not want to live an isolated, restricted, and medieval existence circumscribed by religion. They want to be educated, enjoy social mobility, have a reasonable hope of a good future and a measure of self-esteem, and to be treated with dignity. Most young Arabs want modernization and a strong economy that would provide jobs, nice cars, and some version of a Western-style, less restrictive social life.
The Arab-Muslim world has been facing social and political tensions ever since modernization got under way in the region. However, after more than a century, this partial modernization never enabled Arab nations to really catch up with the West. It did lead to elevated aspirations and increased pressure on youths to succeed in education, launch careers, and gain wealth. But it did not provide sufficient opportunity for these aspirations to be realized.
By Mardo Soghom,
deputy director of broadcast operations at RFE/RL