Which Middle East Dictator Is Going Down Next?

Muammar Qaddafi’s death—if confirmed—sends a sharp signal to the remaining Arab dictators from Algeria to Yemen that you better run; don’t hang around too long. The unprecedented Arab revolutions of 2011 have not yet run their course.

Qaddafi misruled his country for longer than any of his fellow dictators. He seized power right after the June 1967 war. He ordered the bombing of PanAm 103 and he supported terror around the world. President Obama’s decision to help Libya’s rebels fight for their freedom looks increasingly like a smart call.

The regional implications are many. Northeast Africa from Tunis to Cairo has now been swept free of three dictators. Will the revolution now move west to Algiers? The biggest country in Africa today, Algeria, has given Qaddafi’s family safe haven in exile. It quietly hoped for Gaddafi’s success against the rebels and openly opposed NATO’s air war. Will Algerians be inspired now to oust their generals? As a huge country with massive oil and gas reserves Algeria’s future is critical to America and Europe. Senior French decision makers tell me Paris is watching the Algerian picture closely.

Syria’s Assad dynasty has long been close to Qaddafi. They helped many of the same terrorists and the Iranian mullahs. The Syrian rebels will be encouraged by their Libyan brothers’ success. Bashar should get his tickets to Tehran ready. NATO is not going to help the Syrians; Libya was a one off in many ways. But the power of the Arab awakening should not be underestimated.

Yemen’s Ali Abdallah Saleh has ruled his country almost as long as Qaddafi. Now the UN may demand his departure after he has taken the country to the edge of civil war. He may wonder whether he should have stayed in his Saudi hospital after all. He needs to go back to Riyadh for good.

The Bahraini ruling family has never supported terror nor been as brutal as the Libyan mad man but they should also be worried. They have rejected reform for far too long on their little island kingdom. The Bahrainis and their Saudi backers seem to believe repression will work forever. They are mistaken. The 21st century Arab world is changing like no one anticipated, least of all its dictators.

Of course the hard part of the Arab revolutions is only just beginning. Making new democracies from failed police states will be a very difficult challenge. The Arabs face daunting problems. Libya itself is a relatively recent and artificial creation of Italian imperialism and it is severely divided on regional and tribal grounds. But we should be impressed by the Arab peoples—despite terrible repression they are fighting for a new world.