At the moment it is abundantly easy to sense everywhere in the Arab World elation at what appears to be one of greatest events in modern Arab history. A genuine popular revolution, spontaneous and apparently leaderless, yet sustained and remarkably determined, overthrew a system that by all accounts had been the most entrenched and secure in the whole region. The wider implications beyond Tunisia are hard to miss. Just as in the case of the Iranian revolution more than three decades ago, what is now happening in Tunisia is watched by all in the Arab world--as either a likely model of the transformation to come in their respective countries, or at least as a badly needed source of revolutionary inspiration.
The Iranian revolution, too, had unexpectedly toppled what then seemed to be the most entrenched and secure regime in the region. Now the Tunisian revolution appears to be part of a more immediate pattern; mass demonstrations had been taking place in Algeria and Jordan, and virtually all commentators are drawing parallels to their own countries. Since the popular uprising in Sudan that toppled Jafar Numeiry in 1985, there has been no genuine (and equally peaceful) popular revolt against an Arab regime. And the outcome, thus far, of the Tunisian revolution of 2011 seems more promising than that of Sudan in 1985, where the military took over and diffused the revolutionary moment. In the case of Tunisia, the army has remained on the sidelines, and the transition is thus far perfectly constitutional—although more radical voices of the revolution are calling for immediately drafting a completely new constitution. Time and future research will of course tell us more about the exact dynamics of this historic moment, which is continuing to unfold, as well as its regional ramifications. At this point, only some preliminary reflections are possible.
This article is now featured in Jadaliyya`s edited volume entitled Dawn of the Arab Uprisings: End of An Old Order? (Pluto Press, 2012). The volume documents the first six months of the Arab uprisings, explaining the backgrounds and trajectories of these popular movements. It also archives the range of responses that emanated from activists, scholars, and analysts as they sought to make sense of the rapidly unfolding events. Click here to access the full article by ordering your copy of Dawn of the Arab Uprisings from Amazon, or use the link below to purchase from the publisher.