In a piece in this week's issue, The Economist advises cautious optimism with regard to developments over the last few monts in the wider Arab world. As I mentioned in "Arab Spring?", it is easy to get carried away with euphoria, and the circumstances seem very similar to the spring of 1989 in Beijing.
Still, I would argue that there is a difference. This time, the prime motivator for the sudden swell in demonstrations springs from examples by neighbors, a people who are already familiar from the broadcast of their trials and tribulations from outfits like al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya. The Chinese, on the other hand, had no nearby examples. Taiwan was only then only beginning to experiment with democracy, and government censorhip was and remains much more severe in the People's Republic than in the assorted Arab states. Moreover, whereas the Beijing demonstrators were able to fax images to the world, they were not as likely to receive what signs of support there were; but with the explosion of the Internet, the Arab world can get near-instantaneous feedback. Lastly, this time, the whole world is watching, and the United States' military presence nearby, under the command of a President who's seen as not at all reluctant to use force, bodes well for the Lebanese and others.
No, I don't believe the domino effect will lead to the immediate collapse of traditional authoritarian governments in the Middle East. But I believe a good start has been made. The editors at The Economist aren't known generally for gushing over anything, and in vaunted British fashion they can be very dry (including their wit!); but one gets the sense, from all of the anecdotes they report in this piece, that they find the bug of joy difficult to resist.
They come back down to earth and offer this conclusion:
An Arab democratic opening will be long and tortuous. The regimes that block it are strong, cunning and ruthless. The rhetoric of “resistance”—Islamist, Arab nationalist, anti-American, anti-globalisation, or whatever—retains a powerful grip. Many Arabs still support groups such as al-Qaeda. A huge amount still depends on the outcome in Iraq: a descent into chaos or the failure of the political process there could crush democratic stirrings throughout the region. For all these reasons, it is probably too early for the Americans to crow about an Arab year of revolutions. All the same, the distance between Mr Bush’s talk of freedom and Arab aspirations, which only recently seemed to yawn so wide, may at last be starting to close.But I'm sure they would agree, that even if the opening is long and tortuous, the destination is worth the journey. And who knows, there may be surprises along the way.
Besides, as Logical Memes notes, there are some really hot Lebanese girls in the anti-Syria demonstrations! Also, as Glenn keeps pointing out, take a look at the pictures, and you decide which demonstrations you'd rather be a part of!
[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]