Toppling the Arab Berlin Wall

Tens of millions of Arabs witnessed the toppling of Saddam Hussein last spring, and saw in his fall reflections of their own situation. Rightly so, for Iraq's transition can mark the start of the fall of the "Arab Wall"--the invisible barrier of authoritarianism and rigidity that isolates the region as surely as the Berlin Wall once cut Europe in two.

Given the Middle East's deep malaise, today's Arab status quo cannot long endure. But what will replace it? Three dark possibilities exist: anarchy of the type that allowed Osama bin Laden to flourish in Afghanistan, civil wars of the sort that ravaged Algeria and Sudan, or a new Saddam-style authoritarianism.

To realize any of these scenarios, the world need do nothing but wait and watch the present status quo rot and sink into chaos. But there is a positive alternative: a reformist path leading to the establishment of the rule of law, individual rights, a more robust civil society, and democratization across the Arab world.

Despite the violence now plaguing Iraq, finding that path is possible. The Arab world has been relatively stable for the past decade or two. The assassinations, coups, and social disorder that dominated the region between 1945 and 1990 have virtually disappeared, the two big exceptions being the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.