OPINION

The Arab domino

The flames of revolution do not discriminate between pro-western and anti-western regimes. The Arab world is witnessing a third revolutionary wave. The first wave was the Arab nationalist movement which emerged in opposition to colonialism and gave birth to Nasser-type regimes. The degeneration of these regimes, and their downward spiral into corruption, combined with their failure to create growth, produced the second wave, with the rise of Islamic movements. Hardline repression prevented these movements from overturning their despotic rulers, but they did manage to undermine their legitimacy.

The third wave, which we are seeing now, has taken the form of spontaneous, ideologically diverse and politically un-guided popular uprisings that came into being as a result of two factors: first because of the global economic crisis which exasperated poverty; and, secondly, because of the new prospects opened up by the Panarabic television networks and the world wide web that strengthened the demand for freedom, particulalry among the youth. It was only a matter of time before the flames spread. The overthrow of Ben Ali in the wake of the Tunisia uprising, inevitably caused a domino in the region.

The uprisings share a common denominator, but also significant differences. All the regimes are authoritarian, but their structures and needs are different. It is no coincidence that the pro-American governments avoided confrontation with protesters that would lead to bloodshed. Washington is concerned that if things get out of control the situation would strengthen Islamic movements. On the other hand, it realizes that these regimes have come full circle. This is why it encouraged a swift and controlled evolution, with the armed forces — over which it has considerable influence — as guarantor. As a result, the US discouraged the use of military force and sacrificed Ali and Mubarak to rescue the core of these regimes.

In Libya, there was no external factor to prevent Gadhafi from using his pretorians to suppress the revolution. Inevitably, the uprising turned into civil strife. Gadhafi is trying to maintain his grip on power and increasing the risk of an Islamic backlash.

The West is concerned about the day after, but, given the current situation, it has no choice but to back the revolution. Western governments are, after all, comforted by the fact that should Gadhafi be swept out, then Syria?s Assad will be next. Iran is a more complex case, but Washington believes that in the end the transformation of the region will be in the benefit of people, as well as itself. Unless, of course, the flames spread outside the Arab world.