An Arab Spring?

While it would be dangerous to assume that after Tunisia, democracy in the Arab world is just around the corner, the belief that nothing will change is equally illusory. For better or worse, history is on the move in the Arab world – and there is very little the West can do about it.

PARIS – Is Tunisia the first Arab authoritarian domino to fall? Or is it a unique case that should not be viewed as a precedent for either the Arab world in general or the Maghreb in particular? The region’s dictators have sought to dismiss the “Jasmine Revolution,” but the spark that started in Tunisia could spread – perhaps in a matter of months or years – to the entire Arab world.

Indeed, the wall of fear has crumbled, the people have spoken, and an “Arab spring” could be at hand. The message from Tunisia, at least so far, is clear: corrupt and authoritarian regimes, beware: unless you reform deeply and quickly, your days are numbered. The greatest danger is that the Jasmine Revolution could go the way of Romania’s anti-communist uprising of 20 years ago, with the old regime’s underlings expelling their bosses in order to stay in power.

But the best analogy for Tunisia today is Spain in the years preceding and following the death of Francisco Franco. By opening itself to the world through tourism, and with its emphasis on education and women’s rights, Ben Ali’s regime created something unique in the Middle East: a vibrant middle class. But the regime, like Franco’s dictatorship, did not treat the members of this new middle class like adults, thereby encouraging widespread frustration.

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