The Arab Spring


Juan Cole sums it up:

The Arab crowds are investing their hopes in a new era of parliamentarism, in elections and constitutions, in term limits and referendums, in the rule of law and the principle that governmental authority must derive from the people. It is not that they are John Stuart Mill liberals. The crowds have a communitarian aspect, and demands jobs and for free formation of labor unions and the right to bargain collectively form a key part of the protest movements. But such labor organizing is also seen by movement participants and part of the expression of the popular will.

That the movements have been so powerfully informed by this Rousseauan impulse helps explain their key demands and why they keep spreading. The progression is that they begin with a demand that the strong man step down. If they get that, they want a dissolution of old corrupt ruling parties and elites. They want parliamentary elections. They want term limits for the president and reduction of presidential powers. They want new constitutions, newly hammered out, and subject to national referendums. They want an end to corruption and croneyism. They aim for future governments to be rooted in the national will.

I remain stunned both by the courage of this immense younger generation - from Tehran to Tunis - trying to move past their sclerotic elders. But what really amazes is the speed and breadth of the change. Merely what has happened in Egypt would be historic enough - and Egypt, to my mind, remains the indispensable nation here. And yet, from Yemen to Morocco, the spirit of revolution has accelerated. Quite how this became the tipping point will be decided by historians. But one suspects the combination of a huge teen bulge with the communications revolution were central.

I also see some parallels with America. Of course we already had a democracy. But the mass young support for Barack Obama, his vision of a less polarized country and world, his biracial identity, his restraint and inspiration occurred first of all.

(Photo: Iraqi Kurds celebrate the Noruz spring festival with fireworks in the Kurdish town of Akra in Iraq's Mosul region, 500 kms north of Baghdad, on March 20, 2010. The Persian new year, which coincides with the vernal (Spring) equinox, is a Zoroastrian tradition celebrated by Iranians and Kurds. By Safin Hamed/ AFP/Getty Images)