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The Roar of the Democratic Wave

PARIS – Has the uprising in Tunisia sparked a new democratic wave that will conquer Egypt and eventually sweep away the authoritarian “Arab exception”? After southern Europe in the 1970’s, Latin America in the late 1980’s, and Central and Eastern Europe in the 1990’s, it seems that now it is the Mediterranean region’s turn. For Europe, democratization immediately to its south is a vital interest.

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s ouster in Tunisia signalled the collapse of the Arab “stability” model, praised by many Western leaders, consisting of authoritarianism and overrated economic performance. The surge of anger and revolt in Egypt, whatever its final outcome, marks the beginning of the end for authoritarian nationalist Arab regimes.

In contrast to Tunisia, the military is a pillar of the Egyptian regime. But it is unlikely that Egypt’s huge (mostly conscript) army will engage in massive, violent repression, which would be unprecedented in that country.

Even if President Hosni Mubarak hangs on to complete the remainder of his term, the ruling National Democratic Party’s regime, its legitimacy irreparably shaken, will not survive for long. Omar Suleiman’s appointment as Vice-President (and heir-apparent) indicates that the army has accepted that Mubarak must leave sooner or later. Nor, it seems clear, will Mubarak secure the succession of his son, Gamel, before he goes.