A Tunisian Tsunami? Ctd


by Chris Bodenner

Despite the developments in Egypt, Stephen Walt stands by his earlier assessment that Tunisia won't lead to similar revolutions:

The main reason was that authoritarian governments would be on their guard against contagion, and would act quickly to snuff out any rising revolutionary tide. Thus far, that's precisely what the Mubarak regime seems to be doing, and they have a lot of practice at this sort of thing.  See here for an eyewitness account. As Juan Cole warns, "Egypt is not Tunisia."

So what do I think now?

It's clear that events in Tunisia have provided a catalyst for Egyptians to express their discontent with the Mubarak regime. (That discontent is not new, of course).  It seems plausible that social media (e.g., the internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) may have facilitated some degree of mass mobilization, thereby encouraging larger turnout at demonstrations than one might otherwise have expected. It's hard to know how important this has been, but it could be a change in background conditions that makes this sort of revolutionary contagion more likely. I have an open mind about that subject.

What we don't know yet is whether the popular discontent that is being expressed in the streets will ultimately be able to challenge the government's authority, undermine the cohesion and loyalty of the Egyptian security forces, and render Mubarak's continued rule untenable.  If I had to bet, I'd say not at present. But am as I confident as I was last week? 'Course not.

And for me, the more interesting question is not the short-term possibility of revolutionary contagion, but rather the long-term possibilities for political and social change that these events herald. Even if governments like Mubarak's remain in power today, it is hard for me to believe that the current political order in much of the Arab world can survive unchanged for much longer.

Abigail Hauslohner reinforces a key difference between the two nations in turmoil:

In Tunisia, at a critical turning point, the Army took the side of the protesters in the street: it refused to fire on demonstrators. In Egypt, however, the military stands with Mubarak. The Interior Ministry, which runs the police, stands with Mubarak. Mubarak knows better than to falter on security, Egyptians say. "The government here is stronger than it was in Tunisia - that's why people are scared," says one Cairene citizen.

(Photo: Egyptian riot police gather near burning tires as a demonstrator throws an object towards them during a protest demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and calling for reforms on January 26, 2011 in Cairo. By STR/AFP/Getty Images)