The original version of this article, by David Ottaway and Marina Ottaway, was published by the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program.
With breath-taking speed, massive popular protests across the Arab world have swept away two Arab strongmen and shaken half a dozen monarchies and republics to their core. But the Arab world has yet to witness any fundamental change in ruling elites and even less in the nature of governance.
Libya now seems poised to be the first country to see a true change in governance, thanks to Muammar Qaddafi’s megalomania and his amorphous jamahiriya (state of the masses). But such change may not have a happy ending. The damage Qaddafi has inflicted on his country is likely to extend well past his demise because he leaves behind a weak state without functioning institutions.
The uprisings sweeping across the Middle East have similar causes and share certain conditions: authoritarian and ossified regimes, economic hardship, growing contrast between great wealth and dire poverty, all worsened by the extraordinarily large number of young people who demand a better future. But the consequences will not be the same everywhere.
Tunisia and Egypt: A System Still in Place
Pro-democracy protesters in Tunisia and Egypt have been quick to use the word “revolution” to describe their astounding achievement in forcing Presidents Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak from power after decades of rule. Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” and Egypt’s “January 25 Revolution” have certainly injected the long-silenced voice of the people into the autocratic politics of the region. But they have not brought to the fore a new ruling class, system of governance, or the profound social and economic changes associated with the classical meaning of revolution. And it remains to be seen whether they will succeed in doing so.
Continue reading at the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program.
Photo Credit: Adapted from “Libya-protests_025,” courtesy of flickr user Crethi Plethi.