Tunisia: The end of the Arab status quo?

In the streets of the Tunisian summer getaway of Hammamet, in the seething quarters of Sadr City or in the claustrophobic neighborhoods of Beirut, hopelessly divided by the most primordial of religious and clan loyalties, Arab states looked exhausted, ossified and ideologically bankrupt, surviving merely to perpetuate themselves. Never has the divide between ruler and ruled seemed so yawning, and perhaps never has it been so dangerous.

“What we are witnessing is the collapse of the Arab state,” Alfadel Chalak wrote in his column Friday in the leftist Beirut newspaper As Safir, channeling a sentiment often heard these days. “Wherever we look across the Arab world, we see wars. We see civil wars, wars among ethnicities, wars between sects and ethnicities, wars among sects, and wars among authorities, sects, ethnicities and the poor,” Mr. Chalak wrote. “Wars among an Arab world that doesn’t have an elite or leadership that draws strategies and tactics that lead to salvation. Therefore, it looks as if we are going to witness for years and maybe decades to come a great deal of devastation, destruction and killing.”…

More tangibly, the many educated young remain frustrated. They might have the basics a state provides, but no future, that bygone notion that tomorrow will be better than yesterday. That is Tunisia, in a potential glimpse ahead.

“What’s happened is there’s been an accumulation of frustration and some anger and some bitterness, a combination of a lack of political rights, shrinking economic opportunities, abuse of power, the dominance of the security state, all these things,” said Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. “We’ve kind of passed the tipping point.”

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