The spectre of change is haunting the Arab World. Twenty two countries stretching from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf, united, among others, by oil, Islam, dictatorship and underdevelopment. The mass protests that overthrew Tunisia’s dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and have rattled Hosni Mubarak have come as a surprise to much of the world. It should not be so. Before the current regime of dictators took over in the post colonial world, the Arab World was the home of revolutionary, people based movements. Revolutionary fervour was replaced by dictatorship as oil, Communism and strategic interest played themselves out on this playground. With the US tottering and China not yet powerful enough to step into its shoes, these dictatorships had to fall. It is perhaps the zeitgeist of a multipolar world.
I really cannot hazard a guess about which country will be next. The rich states of Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain are obviously not. Enjoying massive oil wealth, the people there have become indolent and a-political. With migrants forming a huge chunk of the population in most of these countries, the necessary homogenity required for revolution is lost. Yemen seems the likely choice. Hopelessly poor and governed by a corrupt and autocratic American stooge, it seems just the kind of country to go the Tunisia way. Algeria and Morocco are other options. Jordan too may be on shaky ground considering its elitist monarchy. Libya and Syria less so because its leaders are too closely identified with anti-imperialism and other popular Arab causes.
Who shall step into the vacuum is another question. Rural based Islamic parties seem to be the most natural choice. However they are strong only in Egypt (The Ikhwan ul Muslimoon). If these protests do spread, and are successful, we should see stop-gap, opportunistic alliances controlled by the military take power. Now whether they pave the way to the popular democratic government or just become new Mubaraks and Ben-Alis would determine the fate of the Afro-Asia. These are interesting times indeed!