Why now?

Leonard Weinberg

A professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno, Leonard Weinberg is an expert in political terrorism. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Haifa in Israel. He’s a fellow at both the National Security Study Center at the University of Haifa and at Oklahoma City’s National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.

What happened in Tunisia and Egypt?

There’s a whole lot of shakin’ going on. Which is of course a pun as well as a tune by Jerry Lee Lewis in my youth. Tunisia is the most westernized of the North African countries. That’s why so many of the protesters were seen speaking French instead of Arabic. In Tunisia, there was a popular uprising against the long-time ruler, this president, Ben Ali, who in turn replaced Habib Bourguiba, who led Tunisia to its independence from France back in the ’50s. In Egypt, President [Hosni] Mubarak, who was a military man who was a successor to Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar El Sadat, just resigned under widespread popular protests with the military unwilling to intervene to defend Mubarack, and so Egypt is at present ruled by a military committee, which is preparing to turn things over to a civilian government once elections are held. Both revolutions drew hundreds of thousands of people into the streets with, as these things go, a minimum of deaths and injuries. That may not be the case in Libya.

Yeah, there’s a bunch of them going on—Libya, and there seems to be some action in Iran, Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria. It’s like everywhere.

It reminds me a little bit of the uprisings in Eastern Europe in 1989. Once people saw that people in Poland and Hungary could protest and take to the streets, and bring down their governments, they lost their fear of government or military repression. It had kind of a domino effect. The only place in Eastern Europe where there was significant fighting was in Romania where the [Nicolae] Ceauflescu security police fought it out with elements of the Romanian military, but eventually they folded, too. So you had a domino effect in Eastern Europe, and it looks like we’re going through that in North Africa and the Middle East, too, right now. One successful revolution leads to another, especially revolutions where not all that many civilians get killed and tortured.

So why now?

Well, all of the countries of the Middle East have a “youth bulge,” meaning that a high percentage of the population is under the age of 30. If you ask yourself, “Who leads and participates in revolutions?” the answer is, “Overwhelmingly, young people.” Revolutions are not made by old folks. Thomas Jefferson was, what?—in his 30s when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. So you have that, plus an unresponsive and corrupt government in Cairo, Tripoli, Tunis, etc., etc., etc. So youth bulge, poor economic performance, corruption, relatively educated populations in a context where it’s very hard for them to find a decent job, plus the social media. Although the Egyptian, Tunisian press can control the print media, it becomes much more difficult when you’re dealing with Facebook, Twitter, the internet in general.

And cell phones.

And cell phones, too.