from TIMESVIEW, Jan 29, 2011
Tunisia's 'Jasmine Revolution', which forced its president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to end his 23-year-long rule and flee the country, has created a ripple effect through the Arab world.
Popular protests demanding political and economic freedoms have broken out in Egypt and Yemen. Spread of the contagion to other places such as Algeria, Jordan and Morocco is being predicted in the days ahead.
Taken together, there is reason to believe that the wave of popular demonstrations could lead to a fundamental churning in the region.
Common structural deficiencies in these countries are a key feature propelling the protests. Unrest has taken place in the backdrop of rising unemployment, institutional corruption and lack of political liberty.
As in Tunisia's case, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and Syria are ruled by long-standing autocratic regimes that yield little or no political space to the opposition. Any sign of dissent is severely dealt with, creating a sense of frustration among the people.
In such circumstances, successful regime change in Tunisia has served as a powerful trigger. The idea that the Tunisian experience can be replicated elsewhere seems to be gaining currency. Catalysed by modern technology such as social networking websites and mobile phones, people across the region seem to be realising the potential for change.
True, change could usher in more conservative regimes. Nonetheless, it will mark the beginning of a debate for greater democratic rights. Some autocratic governments facing protests are known to have cordial relations with the West.
This should not make the latter intervene in any manner. The expression of dissent slowly sweeping across the Arab world is rooted in the region, and that is how it should remain.
Authoritarian regimes are limiting in terms of popular aspirations. That is why the present round of demonstrations holds the potential of a political reconfiguration in the Arab world.
Kyrgyzstan did it last year. It seems to be Africa's turn this year,,,will Asia follow? Central Asia is a potential hotspot no doubt.