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Unprecedented social foment continues in the Middle East and North Africa. People demonstrate, protest, and even fight for change, and “Freedom” is the watchword.

Quick revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt may have spoiled us. The world wants peaceful resolution, and the sooner the better. But protesters in Libya are facing the strongest government opposition yet, complete with mercenaries, tanks, and fighter jets firing on Libyan citizens. Each day the prospects of a protracted civil war grow more likely. Meanwhile protesters in Bahrain, Yemen, and several other Arab countries press their governments for more economic opportunities, access to political decision-making, and basic human rights.

So far, it appears the two successful revolutions and protesters throughout the region seem to be nonsectarian, meaning they’re motivated by something other than religious goals. They’re driven by scattered leaders or by groups of freedom fighters rather than by organized religious movements. This is positive in the sense that religious influence generally heightens the stakes, making orderly transfers of power more difficult. The fact this could change as the revolutions settle into some kind of new political normal is a “known unknown” element of Middle East social transition.

On television or the Internet we watch tens of thousands demonstrate and/or fight. This is impressive, but we should remember there are tens of millions on the sidelines, sitting at home watching, doing nothing, or mostly just not engaging knowledgeably with the protests. What we don’t know is whether these millions at home are or will vote in favor of change or in favor of not changing? This is another element of change-by-the-moment Middle East/North Africa social transition.

One hopes that what emerges in all the countries engaged in civil discourse and/or civil war is a new level of tolerance and respect for minority individuals and groups. That is to say, one hopes post-revolution governments will not only protect basic human rights but will set the tone for inclusive societies in which acceptance is extended to all—ethnicities, races, religions, and also women and the disabled. Whether this will happen is yet uncertain but could change by the moment.

Three groups now seem to have emerged in the Middle East and North Africa: 1) people committed to revolutionary change, 2) people committed to maintaining current governments, and 3) the “silent majority” waiting, watching, and wondering which way they’ll cast their lot when the time comes. This could change at any moment and no one knows just how or in which direction.

The Middle East has always been a fascinating and an inherently important region of the world. Never more so than now.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

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