“ON FRIDAY AFTERNOONS two years ago, the picture on Arab television screens developed a curious habit of multiplying. It would split in two, then three, then more and more lookalike frames.” writes The Economist’s Max Rodenbeck:
At the end of noon prayers, as mosques emptied in sequence across four time zones, news teams in city after city beamed up dramatic imagery that was strikingly similar. The same vast, joyous, flag-waving crowds surged into the Pearl Roundabout in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, thronged the Tahrir Squares of Sana’a, the Yemeni capital, and of Egypt’s great metropolis, Cairo, and swarmed the beachfront at Benghazi in Libya and the leafy avenues of Tunis. Everyone was chanting the same refrain: “The people demand the fall of the regime.”
Although, two years on, “the scorecard for the Arab spring so far looks overwhelmingly negative,” this week’s Economist special report will argue that such an assessment is premature, he notes:
Rather than having reached a sorry end-point, the wave of change may have only just begun. Judging by experience elsewhere, such transitions take not months but years, even decades.
Further unrest and almost certainly further bloodshed lie in store. But this may well be unavoidable in a part of the world where bewildering social change, including extremely rapid population growth and urbanisation, for so long went woefully unmatched by any evolution in politics. Debate on such crucial issues as the relationship between state and religion, central authority and local demands, and individual and collective rights could not be indefinitely stifled.
Something had to give.