For too long, Arab elites have justified dictatorship on the grounds that the alternative is chaos or religious fundamentalism
Issandr El Amrani
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 18 January 2011
"The elation felt across the Arab world over the Tunisian uprising is deep and palpable. It is not simply that, like most people, Arabs are pleased to see a long-repressed people finally have a shot at gaining their freedom. It is also that many recognise themselves in the Tunisian people and share their hopes, their fears, and also their guilt.
Living in a dictatorship is not simply about shutting up and putting up. It is a humiliation, an abasement of the human spirit, that is reinforced on a daily basis....
What unfolds in Tunisia over the next few weeks may inspire others in the region, and make them believe that change is possible. Yet, at the same time, even the relatively small amount of rioting and looting that has taken place reminded many of the chaos that ensued in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion. The Arab regimes have excelled at justifying their dictatorship using the argument that the alternative is either chaos or religious fundamentalism. They have methodically created political vacuums and societies that are torn by socio-economic, ethnic and sectarian tensions.
Only caring about their longevity – and in many cases, reduced to glorified tribal chieftains – many Arab leaders, with the complicity of part of their populations, have created a situation where the type of uprising seen in Tunisia could unleash tremendous destructive forces. This has been their insurance policy, the booby-trap they have laid in anticipation of a moment like this. They have survived by preying on the fear of one another that they have cultivated among their people.....
Tunisia's revolution, to become contagious, must be both peaceful and mark a real break. It must find the balance between punishing those who backed the Ben Ali regime and forgiveness for those who, in myriad ways, took part in a system that sometimes left them little choice. It must show that democracy and stability are not incompatible on Arab soil....."