With the departure of President Mubarak on Friday, the second Arab dictator to fall in a month, it appears that the Arab world order is falling apart. And it seems unlikely that all the money in Saudi Arabia will be able to put it back together again.
What has happened in the Middle East and North Africa in six weeks took decades to achieve in the former Soviet Union. Of course the evil empire didn’t have to contend with Twitter, Facebook, Google and Wikileaks; just broadcasts of rock music and news from the Voice of America, BBC, Radio Free Europe and others. As in the latest democratic revolution, Moscow jammed as many broadcasts as it could. But the desire for Western music and free news proved overwhelming. There were attempts to overthrow the communists, starting in 1956 in Hungary, but Russian tanks crushed the democracy movement.
Thursday night’s claim by Mubarak that he was staying in power shocked the world. Today it was clear that the army had gotten rid of any ambiguity. Although there are celebrations in Egypt, and elsewhere throughout the Arab world and in other dictatorships, the announcement that Vice President Omar Suleiman was in power might not last until the end of the harmattan. That is the annual season of dry, dusty winds from the Sahara. Indeed a military council seemed to hold the real power.
Other despots better pay attention, and fast. Countries where protests have already occurred or are likely include Libya, Algeria, Syria, Yemen, Jordan, and Palestine.
Foreign Policy magazine last month predicted that it would be hard to exaggerate the potential threat to Western interests in what may follow. It also said the new leaders likely will be more focused on improving the lives of their people than on the agendas of radical Islamists. Clearly, the style adopted by al-Qaeda and the Taliban are not suited to democracy. It also seems likely the democracy wave will spread to other regions and other continents where people have been deprived of their basic rights for decades or longer. The democracy expected from the end of colonialism may finally be realized.