I cannot go to bed without sharing with readers that the Libya events are quite exciting.
At first when this whole business started in Tunisia I was a little bit nonplussed observing dryly, and too fast, that Tunisians were a rather educated country (they all speak reasonable to excellent French and thus have access to more info than, say, Egyptians). Not that I meant to diminish the Tunisia exploit, a truly admirable saga, but I thought it was a fluke in the most likely country of the Arab world for such a fluke to happen.
Then was Egypt. I confess that I was a little bit more unsettled for that one. After all, as the lone country with "normal" relations with Israel, and the host of an Islamic group of certain substance, though without the militancy seen elsewhere, I did not know what to expect and feared the worse. And yet Mubarak felt, with a minimum of blood price and the Muslim Brotherhood seems far from having won the game, though it has a good starting block.
If for Tunis my surprise was not major, for Egypt it was. After all if we must rank Middle Eastern dictatorship the Mubarak one was the "best" by far.... but dictatorship it was, and corrupt, and nepotistic and what not.
As Mubarak was shaking I thought that indeed maybe we were living something comparable to the fall of Communist Eastern Europe in 1989, that it was more than journalistic wishful thinking. And I started looking at who could be next. My list was short. In order of priority I thought that Syria could be next, or maybe Algeria though the ruthless civil war of a few yeas ago might not have left much taste for protests. Yemen I doubted because of the Al Qaeda fear there. Morocco is way milder than most, and has been taking for a while baby steps towards a more democratic approach, as does Jordan up to a point and some of the Persian Gulf states. And Iran, besides not been an Arabic country, had apparently repressed its opposition successfully, at least until the end of Ahmadinejerk second term.
Libya appeared as a possibility but not before the second half of the year, and after the fall of at least another countries. After all we know from experience what a ruthless tyrant Qaddafi has been, and as not too populous country one could expect that enough oil money had been spread around to ensure significant support for the ruling family.
And yet tonight we need to review the whole flow chart as Libya could fall as soon as tomorrow. Or not. But what happened in Benghazi will leave permanent marks on the Qaddafi regime that cannot survive long in a country where he has perpetrated what is perhaps the worst bloodshed since WW2. No matter what happens the Green Revolution is dead and revealed to have been all along a mere ploy to ensure the fortunes of the Qaddafi family. The people hate Qaddafi enough to receive bullets and after 40+ years of dictatorship this cannot be changed anymore.
So, what next if Qaddafi falls this week? The influence on other North African nations will be hard to overestimate. If the king of Morocco moves his butt he may survive but constitutional monarchy, and fast, is his only hope. Algeria probably will fall though this might take a while as a significant amount of Algerians are too afraid of an Islamist return. The compromise would be for a speedy "voluntary" departure of Bouteflika on any health excuse and new open elections.
If Libya falls then there is no reason to expect Syria not to fall, by sheer isolation as it will be surrounded by democracies, no matter how imperfect those are. After all the Jordan King is all but certain to go fast on the constitutional monarchy path, supported by Israel.
I am not talking here of Mauritania or Sudan who are already battling other serious problems. Iran is not Arabic but it has now been under a theocratic dictatorship since the fall of the Shah and the time of the Ayatollahs is counted. Iran is not protected from a sudden insurrection Libyan style, the more so that there is probably more misery than in Libya and a real opposition which did not exist in Libya, a unique example of genuine popular uprising.
And thus we are left with the Arabic Peninsula. I think Saudi Arabia will hold for many reasons: it is the nation of Mecca and the National Pride could be enough to play into the Saud family hands. Also I think the Saudis have been clever enough to spread around the gravy while keeping more tribal forms that hide better the true nature of the regime. And no one in the Middle East wants the Saudi transition to be a mess because of its hold on Mecca (except maybe for the crazy Shiites).
The Gulf states are another matter. They have a significant if not a majority Shia content and that is more to the root of the problem than in North Africa. The Saudis will not allow for the establishment of Shiite regimes at their very doorstep. Trouble is ahead. Kuwait has wisely decided on progressive democracy and it just needs to speed up voting rights and civil rights to doge the bullet. Oman is a mystery: a little bit too eccentric from the trouble areas with a ruling family that has been modernizing a lot lately, it could dodge the bullet by acting soon. As for Yemen, the only country where Al Qaeda could make an effective bid, trouble is also ahead as I doubt that Saudi Arabia would allow an Al Qaeda controlled state at its door step.
All in all I feel tonight a strange optimism even though dangerous days are ahead. After all it is more than comforting that in spite of all the tall tales we have been given about Islam, it turns out that people there also want to be in control of their lives, to have decent jobs so they can afford HD TV and cable once they fill up their refrigerator. The West might win after all and Al Qaeda could well be on the losing end of this exercise though there I might be going quite ahead of myself as the Palestinian problem does not seem to be helped at all by these events. Let's see if Israel understands what is going on beyond the knee jerk attitude. If there was a time to offer to stop Jewish settlements in the West Bank it is now.
This is for the West and Israel its one and unique opportunity to bring durable positive change to the Middle East before we go to a religious Armageddon (is this the Apocalypse coming?). The odds are still stacked against us but for the first time odds for improvement do actually exist! Let's not mess it, the victory of fundamentalism is a possibility but not a certainty.
PS: As for myself if there was one dictator that I want to be hung high and dry it is Qaddafi. Let's see if this week that dream comes true.