March 17 marked 90 days since Mohammad Bouazizi set himself ablaze in the southern city of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia. Protesting against the authorities who insulted him and seized his sole means of sustenance, Bouazizi's desperate act of self-immolation sparked demonstrations all over the country that ended with Tunisia's despotic president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fleeing the country on January 14.
The downfall of Ben Ali's regime was itself the spark for the Egyptian revolution, which erupted 11 days later. By February 11, the Egyptian regime had also collapsed when its head, Hosni Mubarak, was forced to resign in disgrace after much obstinate and arrogant behavior.
Within days, Mubarak's fall set off or accelerated several uprisings across the Arab world, with people demanding the downfall of several regimes, especially in Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya.
It is remarkable how in a relatively short period of time -- three months -- the entire Arab World has been transformed from a static and bleak political status quo to a dynamic and lively force for far-reaching change. Hence, it is prudent to take the time to assess the political sea change across the Arab world in the past few months.
Since the victory of the popular revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, many of the demands pressed by the pro-democracy forces have been met. In Egypt, a new government has been formed and led by Dr. Esam Sharaf. As a former Transportation Minister years ago, he broke ranks with the Mubarak regime over corruption and cover-ups. He was also one of the early supporters of the revolution, joining the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, and has since been widely supported by the people.
Dozens of former ministers, corrupt businessmen, and highly ranked security officers have been arrested and indicted on corruption and other serious charges, including human rights abuses and torture. Many billions of dollars have been frozen, including accounts controlled by the Mubarak family and many of his cronies, as they are investigated for political and financial corruption. Many have also been placed under house arrest, or prevented from leaving the country including the Mubarak family.
The notorious state security apparatus responsible for turning the country into a vicious police state has been totally dismantled and many of its officers have been arrested or investigated. In addition, many other constitutional and political reforms have been enacted, including plans for new parliamentary and presidential elections and the drafting of a new constitution.
Similarly, the Tunisian revolution forced the appointment of a new cabinet led by the popularly admired Beji Caid-Essebsi, who is known for his integrity and commitment to democracy. Not only were the brutal state security services totally abolished but the former ruling party was also outlawed and many of its officials indicted on serious corruption charges. Moreover, a new democratic constitution and new elections will take place later this summer.
Many other civil and political rights such as freedom of the press, assembly, and formation of parties, unions and civic organizations have also been restored and widely enjoyed by the peoples of Egypt and Tunisia. Although they take pride in their newly attained democratic freedoms, they understand full well that there are many challenges facing them, especially from the remnants of the former regimes. (See my article How Democracy Could Be Hijacked.)
The February 17 Libyan revolution against the vicious forty-one year rule of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi was as popular as the other Arab uprisings. Although it started as massive peaceful protests, it quickly turned to an armed struggle because of the nature of the regime. Gaddafi built his power base around the establishment of several armed battalions controlled by (and even named after) his sons and close relatives. In addition, he also imported thousands of mercenaries to fight his people and spread terror to crush the revolution.
Many former supporters of the regime broke ranks with Gaddafi once he started bombing and killing his people. Hundreds of ministers, ambassadors, judges, military officers, and other state officials have joined ranks with the revolution. The National Transitional Council (NTC), led by former Justice Minister Mustafa Abdel Jalil, was established to lead the revolution and organize the resistance against the regime. In addition, the major Libyan tribes have since supported the effort to overthrow the government.
But despite Gaddafi's military superiority and willingness to use all the means at his disposal, the revolutionaries are still able to fight back.
As the NTC was able to receive Arab and international recognition, the U.N. Security Council passed several resolutions that imposed a no-fly zone, froze much of the regime's assets overseas, and imposed a travel ban on Gaddafi, his sons and cronies, while an investigation by the International Criminal Court has opened into allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity.
But the primary challenge for the opposition is in maintaining the real goals of the revolution, namely the establishment and insistence of an independent, free and democratic Libya, despite all foreign interference and regional pressures.
Since February 3, huge, peaceful demonstrations have been engulfing Yemen against the 33-year rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh. The protests in Yemen are very similar to the huge protests of the Egyptian revolution.
Millions of people have been demanding the departure of Saleh. All opposition parties, major tribes, civil society organizations, unions, universities, and major religious figures such as Abdulmajid Al-Zandani have joined the protests. Even dozens of ruling party members in the parliament, military officers, and other officials have resigned in protest of the brutality of the security forces.
Similar to Libya's Gaddafi, the Saleh regime has been sustained by two major power bases, the security and army units led by his son, nephews, and other close relatives, as well as by the fierce loyalty of major leaders of his tribe. But despite hundreds of casualties, the protesters are determined to continue their peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins until the regime collapses.