Revolutions In The Arab World

The outcome of the popular uprisings in Egypt and Yemen is yet to be determined but it is not too early to offer a few thoughts. We are seeing the demonstration effect not the domino effect as suggested by the BBC. The uprisings in Yemen and Egypt are the result of people in those two countries observing what has already occurred in Tunisia; that is the demonstration effect. In contrast, the domino theory holds that one event actually caused another. The Tunisian uprising did not cause similar events in Egypt and Yemen.

If the regimes in Yemen and Egypt do not survive then we can expect a period of turmoil and instability just as is the case in Tunisia. All three states suffer from at least two similar deficiencies which will make a major political transition difficult. First, none of them have credible leaders in place ready to assume power. The long established monopolistic systems have prevented the emergence of an alternative group of leaders.

That monopoly on political participation has a second result. Arab cultures in general, and these three states in particular, lack a tradition of and experience in the dynamics of democratic politics. The leaders who might step forward have never had an opportunity to exercise tolerance nor have they been called on to compromise their agendas. Both of these attributes – tolerance and the ability to compromise – are necessary if a more open political environment is to develop.

The opposition may fail in achieving its objectives. Watch closely the reaction of the military leadership in both countries, especially Egypt where the officer corps has been the bulwark of the regime since the Revolution of 1952. Until the military takes a position the outcome remains in doubt.

If the uprisings do topple these long established governments, then we can expect a long and difficult transition period with no certainty as to what will follow. Removing the current leadership is but the first step in a long journey towards lasting political change.

Donn M. Kurtz II, Ph. D., taught political science at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette from 1969 until his retirement in 2007. He lives in Grand Coteau, Louisiana.

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