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The New Arab World

Tomorrow’s Reality

by Executive Editors

There is no going back. Recent months have severed the future from past precedent and brought about a fundamental shift in the Arab paradigm.

This month Executive examines some of the numerous facets of the historic events sweeping the Middle East and North Africa. Among the roots of the populist revolts are the economic reforms many MENA countries undertook to produced headline-grabbing growth and vast fortunes for the well-connected elite, while the poor and middle classes, left exposed to inflation, became ever more familiar with layoffs as privatized state institutions streamlined [see comment Upheaval and institutional capital].

Tunisia, having been the first to fall, is the forerunner navigating the amorphous uncertainty that comes with rebuilding nations. A month and a half after the euphoria of ousting President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from power, young Tunisians were returning to the streets demanding to see that the social inequities they rose up against are righted. 

“They want change, they want a better country, they want a better situation, they want better governance… it’s very hard to achieve the type of change they are asking for,” says Mongi Boughzala, an economist at the University of Tunis El Manar. “Something has to be done to convince them that it’s coming and they’re part of it.” [see interview Mongi Boughzala].

  Libya, at the other end of the revolutionary arc, had escalated into the most vicious and bloody of the uprisings yet by the end of February. With the situation fluid and developing by the moment, Executive asked how Libyans in the rebel-liberated east of the country were feeling out their first tastes of freedom [see interview A revolution underfoot]. 

In Egypt, the democracy movement, having toppled the heads of the regime, is now divided between combing through the remains of the state to piece back together a semblance of stability or remaking the country from its foundations up [see comment Changing of the guard]. Whichever they decide, it will be an absolute necessity to rebuild business confidence to spur private sector investment and create jobs. Weighing in Egypt’s favor going forward is its massive human capital; many regional business leaders see a market of more than 80 million potential customers as a fantastic expansion opportunity if the country develops — as Turkey has since the 1990s — into a stable, pro-business democracy that advances general living standards [see stories Excess Instability and Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution].

Bahrain, by contrast, has a relatively tiny population base and has sought to diversify its economic future away from depleting oil reserves by developing itself into a regional financial hub with competitive advantages for investors. But the kingdom’s security forces effectively shot its moderate, “business friendly” reputation in the head in their savage attacks on peaceful protesters [see story The cost of a heavy hand]. This, coupled with the crackdown on political dissent — including mass arrests and torture allegations  — over the past year and more have left Bahrain looking like little more than a police state in a suit [see Last Word The pearl’s shine bloodied].

Across the Gulf, Iran has also been caught in the wake of the tidal wave that flowed from Tunisia, but here the two sides also battle for the narrative; the opposition Green Movement has found common cause with the pro-democracy Arab uprisings and been re-inspired into action, while at the same time Ayatollah Khamenei and supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have claimed recent events are an Islamic awakening, equating them with the 1979 Iranian revolution that ushered in the Islamic republic [see comment Spinning a revolution].

In Yemen as well, hundreds of thousands have rallied to the populist uprisings, along with tens of thousands of others in Morocco, Algeria, Iraq and Oman. And watching the rapid advance of revolutions tear through the regional status quo that had been the pillar of their security strategy — especially in regard to Egypt and Jordan — Israeli leaders have been left reeling. 

“In the Arab world, there is no room for democracy,” said Israeli Major General Amos Gilead at a conference near Tel Aviv last month [see comment Israel’s preference for Arab oppression].

But what was the status quo is now dead, trampled beneath the feet of millions marching through the streets. And while it is yet far from certain that the freedom and democracy for which they have fought so hard await them at the end of this road, what is assured is that where they are going is radically different from the place they left.

Welcome to the new Arab World.

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Executive Editors

Executive Editors are the collective voice of the magazine. Stories written by Executive Editors are the culmination of discussions, brainstorming, research and information-gathering by our editorial team. Over decades, our editorial team has applied a blend of seasoned expertise and a discerning eye to bring you insightful and engaging and substantive reads that eschew sensationalism.

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