The Arab spring of 2011 is, three months on, clearly very much still a work in progress.
Tunisia and Egypt, the two countries whose restive citizens managed to topple their corrupt regimes, are undergoing a “learn as you go” experience that will prove to be the bellwether and roadmap for other free Arab states. Perhaps too for each other: the Tunisian revolution is already setting a template that Egypt might follow in a series of bold steps: rewriting its constitution rather than amending the existing one, issuing an arrest-warrant for the former dictator, and dissolving the corrupt former ruling party.
The vast majority of Arabs who have taken to the streets in the past twelve weeks have shared similar peaceful demands, including putting an end to corruption and a larger say in the running of their countries via free and fair elections.
The spectrum of responses from Arab governments ranges from outright denial that there exists any problem to blaming “foreign elements” and using ruthless force. In only a few instances have governments made concessions in face of their citizens’ demands, such as Algeria’s lifting of the state of emergency, and the Sultan of Oman’s sacking of fifteen ministers and senior aides. Colonel Gaddafi’s repression of protest in Libya put a sudden stop to the process of peaceful and relatively smooth transition opened by Egypt and Tunisia, leading to international intervention and denying Libyans the chance to lead a civilian revolution.
It may turn out that, for the foreseeable future, some Arab tyrants survive the Arab spring and continue violently to suppress their people’s aspirations to freedom. But cracks are evident within elite circles. Even if hardline regimes survive, the pioneering role of Tunisia and Egypt will have a major influence over the Arab populations.
The Arab spring is a work in progress. It cannot be constrained by any timeframe, and may yet extend to 2012 or beyond. But it has already set free almost 100 million Arabs in north Africa, about a third of the whole. As the other two-thirds continue to press for change, they will be crucially empowered by Egypt and Tunisia’s ability to lead by example. These countries’ re-emergence as democratic, independent and just states will help to turn the movement of 2011 into an unstoppable wave to end tyranny in the Arab world.