All the developments signify that the Arab world is experiencing a third revolutionary wave.
The first was the wave of Arab nationalism which surfaced in reaction to colonialism giving rise to Nasser-style regimes. The degeneration of these regimes, their slide into corruption and their failure to solve chronic problems of underdevelopment and lacking social justice instigated the second wave.
Societies in the Arab world – and, more generally, the Muslim world – turned to opposition movements that were fundamentalist to a greater or lesser extent.
The uprising in Tunisia and the domino movements in Egypt, Yemen and Jordan have kicked off phase three.
What we are seeing is a far cry from Nasser-style military coups and the well-coordinated rallies organized by Islamic movements.
These are spontaneous reactions without political or ideological guidance – and they are basically the product of two factors: First, of the growing poverty among low-income groups, also a result of the global economic crisis. Second, of a popular demand for greater freedom, a demand which is largely fueled by the new horizons that have opened up with the help of the Internet and the social media.
As is usually the case in these situations, the spark that ignited the rallies in Tunisia was of secondary importance. That is the reason why both the regional government as well as Washington were taken by surprise.
From the moment that the Tunisia uprising was seen to be a success, it was only a matter of time before it spread to other nations. Egypt was like a fruit waiting to fall off the tree.
The United States is afraid that things in Egypt – a key link in the geostrategic chain of the broader region – could run out of control, pulling the country toward Islamism. That is why Washington is pressuring President Hosni Mubarak to step down swiftly but smoothly so as not to disrupt the state’s pro-Western orientation.
Although the protests are not orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, this is still the only organized political power with deep roots in society. The armed forces are the only counterweight. They have weapons as well as a strong image. A big chunk of society sees them as a guarantor of stability.