Where to for the Arab Spring?

It’s been almost eight months since the first Arab dictator, ousted President Ben Ali of Tunisia, fled the country under unprecedented popular uprisings signalling a snow-ball effect that has swept across North Africa and the Middle East like a political tsunami.

Since then, events in Egypt led to similar outcomes with the spectacular demise of President Hosni Mubarak and the subsequent initiation of his trial in Cairo. Indeed, these are tense times to be in power in the Arab world as the fear and prestige of office all but disappeared amid popular demands for political reform and genuine accountability.

Events in Libya have in the last couple of days developed to the point where the rule of maverick self-appointed doyen of Arab and African leaders, Colonel Gaddafi, has all but collapsed relinquishing the capital Tripoli to the rebels and the political leadership of the transitional council.

And though the situation in Syria and to a lesser extent Yemen are far from being resolved any time soon, it is almost inevitable that only ‘regime change’ will satisfy the demands of the citizenry in these and most other Arab countries.

But being in post-revolution Tunisia for the past few days (August 2011) reminds me that toppling a regime is one thing, but managing to move successfully towards a democratic form of governance is an another matter altogether.

In fact, never has the danger of counter-revolutionary forces been more evident than it is in countries like Tunisia and Egypt.

The persistent remnants of the old guards can be seen everywhere from the security forces, to the judiciary and from the public service to the media.

Yet, despite all of these serious challenges, one can’t help but feel the sense of relief that the lifting of decades of oppressions and corruption have changed the general mood and that the adjustment to the newly found sense of freedom will take more than a few months.

One of the disturbing manifestations of revolutionary change is the absence of state institutions and the prevalence of utter chaos.

From street vendors exhibiting their goods almost anywhere there are pedestrians to unauthorized building works appearing on a daily basis, scenes that are increasingly testing the patience of bemused citizens and on-lookers.

But these unpleasant scenes will eventually disappear once a new legitimate order emerges through free and fair elections that will soon take place (on the 23rd of October 2011 in the case of Tunisia).

However, the most enduring face of these seismic political events in the Arab world is that by and large they have been undertaken with astonishing discipline and awareness of the historical nature of these popular uprisings.

The early events in Tunisia and Egypt in particular almost seemed too easy and neat for them to be described as true revolutionary moments.

Events there and elsewhere were moving with stunning speed and Arab protestors across North Africa and the Middle East were chanting the same slogans demanding the toppling of the brutal rulers and expecting genuine political reforms.

And while the events in Syria, Yemen and other countries in the region seem to drag on with no breakthrough in sight, let us all remember that success of revolutionary movements cannot be measured in months or even seasons but rather in years and sometimes decades.

Yet I remain hopeful that in the end people power will prevail across the Arab world.

Middle Eastern dictators will not be able to turn the clock back because the change this time is driven by fearless young people who represent the overwhelming majority of the populace with almost 60% of Arabs are under the age of30.

At long last demography and local dynamics rather than autocracy and foreign interests will shape the future of the region for decades to come.

Fethi Mansouri