Glenn Beck conservatives and less-nutty observers of the Middle East have worried that the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings could end up leading to much instability—and trouble—throughout the region. But Thomas Lippman, a former Washington Post reporter who is now adjunct senior fellow for Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, sees reason for optimism. He recently posted the below note on a listserv for Middle East experts:
It is certainly understandable that the events in Egypt and Tunisia would inspire a great deal of concern, and a lot of alarmist commentary, about the possible negative effects on the rest of the region. It seems to me that there is a positive side to these developments—aside from sheer jubilation over the downfall of autocrats—that might be worth examining in this forum.
The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt have demonstrated decisively that the quest for freedom and the people’s aspirations for liberty can be satisfied by a secular, non-religious movement—and they cannot be satisfied by movements based on religious extremism, intolerance or violence. Consider the difference between what happened in Egypt this week and what happened when Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula tried to rouse the people of Saudi Arabia to rebellion in the name of Islam. The secular movement succeeded, the religious one failed because it did not promise liberty, it promised the absence of liberty.
The jihadists and extremists who have been telling their compatriots for years that the salafi path to liberty is the only path have been shown to be completely wrong. The spontaneous people power of secular uprisings has toppled two regimes in a month. How many regimes have the Islamists toppled? There is no indication that the demands of the crowds in Tahrir Square included restoration of the Caliphate.
The monarchical regimes of the region,and especially those of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, may have many political liabilities, but the popular appeal of jihadist sentiment should no longer be one of them. It is a path not to freedom but to oppression, and everyone from Pakistan to Morocco can now see that—including the people of Iran.
In other words, there is a battle of ideas in the region, and the evildoers are not faring well.