The shocking fall of Tunisian leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali is being hailed as the first democratic uprising in the modern Arab world. And unhappy citizens in other Arab and North African nations with similarly autocratic rulers are taking note. At least four men in Algeria, one in Egypt, and one in Mauritania have set themselves on fire since Sunday in protests seemingly inspired by Tunisian vegetable trader Mohamed Bouazizi, 26. His self-immolation on Dec. 17 set in motion Ben Ali's downfall. Will Tunisia's uprising be a template for other Arab democrats? (Watch an al Jazeera report about the protests)
It's just a matter of time now: Even Islamist regimes, such as those in Lebanon and Iran, are feeling the strain of the "slow progression toward liberalism and Western-style democracy," says Canada's National Post in an editorial. And if the people of a "standard-issue Arab autocracy" like Tunisia can rise to "the lure of freedom," the only question is how long it will take other oppressed Muslim citizens in the region to heed that call, too.
"Tunisian revolt could offer hope for the Arab world"
Tunisia's "Islamist-free" uprising is unique: "Observers hoping that Ben Ali's fall will portend a similar fate for other Arab autocrats may be left waiting" for a long time, says Michal Koplow in Foreign Policy. Ben Ali was willing to step aside, and the military was willing to speed him along, largely because the protesters are secular nationalists, not religious extremists. If "Islamist opposition figures were playing a large role in the current unrest, the government would likely have doubled down on repressive measures." But a similar uprising in Egypt, for example, could leave the country "an Islamist state" — so the government there would crack down hard.
"Why Tunisia's revolution is Islamist-free"
Tunisia will spark reforms, not revolts: The "Jasmine Revolution" will send shock waves through the Arab world, says Scott Peterson in The Christian Science Monitor, but "it is unlikely to result in a chain of similar revolutions." Still, with the rise of social networks and the cable channel Al Jazeera, oppressive Arab governments will never be the same, either. The most likely outcome is "broader political change by Arab leaders anxious to prevent the Tunisian example."
"Tunisian events likely to spark wider Arab reforms, but not revolutions"