Age of revolutions: The day after the squares are taken

Change is coming to the Middle East, but it’s a much slower process than we’d like to think

By Yael Lavie

The Middle East revolution age has begun. Its time has come. Geographically moving from Eastern Europe in historical decade intervals, every global region gets its revolutionary age.

It is always an exciting time to watch if you are not a member of the region experiencing the jolts of revolt personally, rather viewing them comfortably on TV or your Ipad these days. You sip your tea, you nod your head in approval and believe in the power of people to rise up and demand change. But revolutions are tricky historically, they don’t always end with the lofty ideas they began marching with. And they may prove to be even trickier in a region like the Middle East.

There is no shred of doubt – change was long overdue in dictatorships such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya (currently ongoing and claiming many lives as western viewers watch in awe). But if you are a Middle Easterner who lived in the region most of your life, as you drink your “Kahawe” in between one weekly revolution to another this month, you cannot help but wonder if the region so apt at never letting a good thing last can see past the day after “the taking of the square”.

In a recent insightful interview to Israeli Haaretz Magazine, Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami said the current furor in the Arab world was catalyzed not by a fruit vendor in Tunisia but by the execution of Saddam Hussein.

“There was a very distinct moment when Saddam was flushed out of his spider hole. There was something very significant – they saw him come, hands up, without firing a shot. So they learned about the falseness and the false bravado of these dictators they revered and whose names they chanted. They saw him surrender in a very humiliating way. People who loved Saddam, people who hated Saddam, took notice of what happened.”

That much is true, and it also happened nearly a decade ago.

The first thing to remember about the Middle East is that time takes time here. More so than any other region in the world and with many more cups of very strong coffee which can very quickly turn into broken glass thrown in riots with causes forgotten or lost.

Is the Middle East due for a change? Indeed. But will Middle Eastern time dissolve that ever so needed change – that is the question.

Today the world is mesmerized by the rapidly unfolding demise of the Libyan umbrella dictator – TV/FB/Twitter/online reports of his frantic speeches in front of a half empty Green Square in Tripoli, a fallen Eastern Libya and the power of the people hailed.

His end is near, possibly bloodier than of his pal Mubarak. And in Kaddafi’s case, the West seems ready to intervene much faster given Libya’s important oil role. That is what dominated the news today.

But there were two other news items that did not get as much notice this week, yet raise the worry of the day after. In Egypt, where the army – hailed so bravely by the West for assisting in a calm transition after Mubarak’s resignation – dispersed a Tahrir square demonstration asking for the dismissal of the interim government which is comprised of former Mubarak loyalists. The army did it violently. It was a foot note of a report. And in Tunisia – the country where people so bravely took to the streets over a month ago and sparked a regional onslaught of revolutions – a similar demo asking for the resignation of the interim government was dispersed yesterday by security forces.

Is this what the day after will look like? For the sake of those seeking change, the bigger picture must not be ignored.

Yael Lavie is a journalist, television producer and writer living in Tel Aviv.