2 February 2011 Last updated at
Egypt protests: an Arab spring as old order crumbles?
By Roger Hardy
Middle East analyst, Woodrow Wilson Center
Protesters in Cairo have made it clear they want President Mubarak to leave
The Arab order is crumbling. But whether it will collapse or somehow re-invent itself is far from certain.
Arab rulers, from North Africa to the Gulf, in rich countries and poor, find themselves in essentially the same boat.
Virtually without exception, they preside over corrupt autocracies with little or no legitimacy in the eyes of their people.
All of them now watch Egypt's "days of rage" with mounting trepidation. In the fate of the ailing Egyptian ruler, 82-year-old Hosni Mubarak, they see their own.
Western commentators are right to say the protests are about "them" rather than "us".
The anger of the protesters is largely directed inwards - at a bankrupt Arab order - rather than outwards at Israel, the United States or the West.
Largely, but not entirely. The West is complicit in Arab autocracy.
For decades, American and European leaders chose stability over democracy. Now the chickens are coming home to roost.
Jordan has announced political reforms following rallies in the capital, Amman
President George W Bush tried, briefly, to pursue a "freedom agenda" in the Middle East but it failed, and ageing autocrats could once again breathe freely.
Now, Western leaders including Barack Obama find themselves essentially onlookers as events move with dizzying speed towards an outcome none can foresee.
Others are spectators, too, even if they pretend otherwise.
Iran is acting as if the Arab masses are belatedly following the example of the Khomeini revolution.
In fact, if the young demonstrators have a role model - and some actively disavow one - it is democratic Turkey rather than theocratic Iran.
Also a bystander is al-Qaeda, whose pretensions to being the voice of Arab and Muslim discontent have been punctured.
Who owns the future?
Analysts would do well to exercise a little humility.
My own guess, for what it is worth, is that this is not the beginning of an Arab spring, but of something more messy and drawn-out.
The old order still has plenty of fight in it.
The battle for the Arab future is under way. Since the stakes are high, the struggle will be fierce.
Roger Hardy is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington DC.
More on This Story
Features and Analysis
Clashes between Muslims and Christians reflect the political and security vacuum left by the recent upheaval in Egypt, the BBC's Jonathan Head writes
Share this page
Libyan state TV shows Col Muammar Gaddafi meeting tribal leaders in Tripoli - in what would be his first public appearance in nearly two weeks.
The late al-Qaeda leader's complex network of relatives
Where are today's Steinbecks to tell story of jobless generation?
How China is spending its new wealth
Why Bob Marley's legacy endures, 30 years after his death
BBC Travel goes from coast to coast in search of America's best cocktail bar
Should cricketers be subject to sting operations to root out corrupt players?