BERLIN – When the democratic revolt in Tunisia successfully ousted the old regime, the world reacted with amazement. Democracy from below in the Arab world?
After the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year-old regime in Egypt, the heartland of the Middle East, amazement has turned into certainty. The Middle East has awakened and begun to enter the globalized world of the twenty-first century. Up to now, the region (excluding Israel and Turkey) had more or less missed out on the epochal process of worldwide modernization.
Whether the Arab and wider Islamic world’s democratic awakening will actually prevail or produce only change at the top of authoritarian regimes, whether it will lead to a stable order or sustained chaos and radicalization, still remains unclear. One thing, however, is already clear: the era when this vast region slept while others modernized has ended.
The grassroots revolt will, of course, continue. Virtually no country in the region will escape it, though when and where the next eruption will occur remains uncertain. Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia are all candidates, with the latter probably posing the most difficulties.