Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.
One major lesson that Tunisia and Egypt shared with their fellow Arabs is that dictatorships do have an end and that they can be abolished sooner than many think. Furthermore, they inspired the entire region with their success, breaking the barrier of fear and replacing it with a pragmatic optimism that change can be achieved.
However, the other half of the story that remains is the question of what it takes to effect democratic change in the region. In particular, it is becoming increasingly obvious that a smooth overthrow of entrenched dictators is quite an elusive goal. The Tunisian and Egyptian paradigm of regime change in three weeks probably cannot be repeated.
In the coming months, a new paradigm for political transition will likely emerge in the Arab world. We should be prepared to see different means of quelling public unrest in the region. Possible new scenarios include civil wars, coups, disintegrations, sectarian tension, external intervention, internationalization and negotiated political settlements.
The countries at risk — particularly Libya, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain — are unlikely to follow one particular path because each one of them has its own set of dynamics and domestic drivers for change. In Tunisia and Egypt, we have seen people inspiring others to revolt; however, in the new paradigm, we are seeing dictators inspiring dictators to resist.
It is true the emergence of these new dynamics is likely to make the process of political change longer and more complicated. But regardless of how long this process takes, the Arab public has learned that the time has come for aging dictators to depart — and that the only option at this point is to move forward with the long-overdue call for freedom and justice.