News Analysis: Mideast unrest to continue: analysts

08:38, February 25, 2011      

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech on Wednesday that the turmoil in the Middle East is set to continue for a long time.

Israel hopes the Arab countries will undergo a process of democratization, which would be in Israel's interests, said Netanyahu, predicting that the unrest would not slow down any time soon and could go on for many years.

His remarks were a change of tone. Israeli officials have bemoaned the loss of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who was forced to step down after mass protests swept the country.

Over the last two months, people of many Middle East countries have protested against their leaders, calling for democracy and economic reform. Local analysts share the Israeli prime minister's view that what is happening now might well continue for some time, saying that the region is witnessing a new phase of history, both in terms of scope and ideology.


Prof. Avraham Diskin of the department of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem believes that Netanyahu's remarks need to be seen in light of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, saying that both are long and complicated processes while the result is not always expected by those who initiated them.

"The Arab world, like the Palestinians, has changed dramatically. There is no doubt about it," Diskin said, adding that in the past there have been demonstrations and revolutions in the region but not like what we are seeing now.

Diskin said it's very important to set the right conditions, such as reduction of poverty, before one pushes for democracy, otherwise the result may not be the one hoped for. This must be taken under serious consideration because "the conditions for democracy are really fragile," he said.

"It's like the peace process," said Diskin, "We have to hope and pray for democracy because it's in Israel's interests. But whether it's around the corner? I doubt it."


Gad Gilbar, a professor of modern Middle East history at the University of Haifa, told Xinhua that the changes we are currently seeing are unprecedented.

"It's a long process. We have certainly not seen the end of it, and the outcome isn't clear. We are in the first phase of a quite complicated historical process," Gilbar said.

Gilbar said that looking back through the history of the Middle East, there has never been an event similar to the current development on a regional scale.

"In the 1920s and 1930s, there were revolts against the imperial power such as Britain and France," Gilbar said, "but nothing like the current events, where the masses are demanding a higher living standard."

According to Gilbar, the desire for a better life is the main objective of the protesters. He believes there is a kind of equation between demonstration and democracy, where the government is responsive to what people want.


Shadi Hamid, deputy director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said that the wide-spread protests are indeed the start of a long struggle, but also a test of an old saying that democracy is a western concept that will never work in the Middle East.

"This is the way that democratic transitions work -- they are supposed to be messy, uncertain and unpredictable," Hamid said, " You don't know who is going to win the next election and you are not always sure when the next election will be."

Hamid said the key question is whether the process will descend into more violence, making more likely a serious political unrest over a prolonged period.

He believes that it's likely to happen if there is stalemate in these countries between protestors and the government, when neither side is willing to back down.

There has always been the conception that Arabs were passive and politically apathetic, Hamid said, "but the recent events have disproved that completely."

"It's not right to say that Arabs were not ready and not interested in democracy -- they always were. It's only a matter of time and right circumstances," he said, "The Arabs have shown that they are willing to fight and die for democracy at a level that no- one really expected."

"This is a democratic moment and Arabs are showing and proving - - if there was any doubt before -- that democracy is truly universal," Hamid added.

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