Saturday, 12 February 2011

Egypt's historic moment spurs new hope in Arab world

From the halls of power across the Arab world came a stunned silence. In the living rooms of ordinary people watching history unfold live on television there was wonder, amazement and a renewed sense of hope and possibility.

And from Israel, which may also be profoundly affected by the fall from power of its closest Arab ally, came indications of a deep sense of unease.

If anyone had doubted the transformational potential of the revolt in tiny Tunisia that overthrew a ruler of marginal significance on Jan. 14, here was proof.

Just four weeks later, Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, the region's elder statesman and the embodiment of Arab authoritarianism for a generation, had been force stop down under pressure from his own people, an event as momentous for the Arab world as it is for Egyptians.

Though the circumstances of Mubarak's departure and the assumption of power by the military raised troubling new questions, for most Arabs the details didn't matter. Egypt had rapidly followed Tunisia down the path of dissent and revolt, and the only question on everyone's minds was which of the Middle East's autocrats would be next in line.

In Beirut, Lebanese fired Kalashnikovs in the air and set off fireworks in celebration at the news, in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Palestinians honked their horns and cheered, and in Gaza, Hamas police officers distributed candies to citizens.

"A lot of other dictators were waiting to see if Mubarak goes or stays, and if he stayed it would have given them added strength to resist the demands of their people," said Jordanian political analyst Labib Kamhawi. "Now we will see accelerated demands for political reform and people will be more blunt in their demands."

"Egypt is the compass, the heart of the Arab world, the place where things start and end," he added. "So Arab regimes are very unhappy and feel that their moment is approaching."

Many regimes are already rushing to offer concessions to their citizens intended to appease unrest or deflect the threat of revolt. In Bahrain, home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, the king on Friday announced gifts of $2,700 for every family, as opposition groups stepped up calls for a day of protest on Monday.

Syrian authorities this week lifted bans on Facebook and Twitter. Jordan's King Abdullah has replaced his cabinet in response to demonstrations there. Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh pledged last week not to seek reelection in 2013, but several hundred protesters took to the streets in southern Yemen on Friday to demand secession from the north.

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