While recent events in Tunisia and in Egypt demonstrate that Arabs are not a cultural exception to the broad desire for freedom around the world, building democracy will require the creation of organized political parties.
In the wake of the protests in Tunisia and Egypt, the United States has an opportunity to assist countries transition into stable democracies and to pressure allies in the Arab world to implement reforms before it is too late.
As the popular uprising against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak continues and the pro-western government of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is replaced by a government supported by Hezbollah, the United States is losing key allies in the region.
Protests in Tunisia that pushed President Ben Ali to flee the country have sparked mass protests in the region, spreading to Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen. The protests in Egypt are growing and unlike anything seen in decades. Will Tunisia remain an isolated case or the beginning of a wave of change?
Although the wave of protests in Tunisia was set off by economic complaints, the true threat to stability in the Arab world is poor governance.
Recent events in Tunisia and Egypt have shown that protests driven by a range of socio-economic and political demands have a greater chance of achieving change than uprisings that are motivated by religious and political ideologies.
The uprising that started in Tunisia in late 2010 was not a completely new development, but rather a more dramatic example of the unrest common across the region, particularly in Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Jordan.
As a new national unity government in Tunisia struggles to gain support, political parties, civil society, and the military will play a critical role in determining whether the country can transition to a more democratic state or will fall back into its old political structure.
The EU, which has worked for decades on North Africa’s development, must step up its efforts to bolster the region’s private sector and dismantle its own agricultural protectionism.
In the wake of the upheaval in Tunisia, Arab leaders need to recognize that no country is invulnerable and take steps to open political systems to improve the democratic and political rights of the population.