David Shearer writes over at Red Alert that the "Genie" is out of the bottle in the middle east. He points to a lethal cocktail of youth, unemployment, global connectivity and above all fearlessness on the protesters' part. The question now is what Genie has been released - the Genie of democracy and economic and political freedom? This was the case in Eastern Europe and most of the former Soviet Union following the revolutions of the late 80s and early 90s. Or is it the Genie of Islamic extremism, and deeper authoritarianism as was the case in Afghanistan in the 90s, Iran in the late 70s and Libya in the late 60s? Only time will tell.
Sadly the latter examples reflect political realities in the middle east - particularly when it comes to Iran's revolution. The Iranians threw off their repressive western-backed monarchy only to have the revolution hijacked by Islamists. Iran is now a repressive theocratic state. Libya is another kettle of fish; the it appears to be a revolution in parallel to Romania, with Gaddafi's exit strategy appearing to mirror Ceauşescu.
It's my hope that Egypt will lead the middle east peacefully towards liberal democracy. However, with the military in charge that's not likely - perhaps the best we can hope for is a Turkish-style compromise, where the military is the bastion of defending the secular state, keeping (largely) the sectarian parties in check.