Thomas W. Lippman
The historic overthrow of longtime autocrats in
Q. Looking at the
A. News travels fast in the modern era. It is possible that this long period of comatose politics in the Arab world might be coming to an end, not just because of what happened in
Q. What about
A. Americans tend to view autocratic countries and Arab countries as all alike. In fact, the situation in
Q. List some of the reforms.
A. Some of them are not what I would call legal reforms, but rather social reforms. Abdullah has been much more forthcoming than his predecessors in making some social, political, and professional space for women. He has publicly curtailed the arbitrary power and the capricious behavior of the so-called religious police, the mutaween, who are actually behavior police. He has supported gender integration in the workforce and in his own pet project, the university that is named after him. He has encouraged what they call the national dialogue, which are televised public sessions that bring people together who might not otherwise be talking to each other for quite public and open discussions of the issues in the kingdom.
These don't amount to any kind of popular democracy; the reforms are top down, and they don't arise from popular unrest. Nevertheless, it is clear from my many recent visits there that the people feel less oppressed, or less hemmed in, than they used to. There are definitely issues of opportunity and employment for the very young population. The least that can be said is that the government has recognized those issues and is pumping vast amounts of investment into attempts to deal with them.
Q. What are the issues in
A. One is that
Q. Is there a good chance Saleh may step down? He has already said he is going to.
A. Yes, but the country may well be ungovernable, so it wouldn't matter who runs it. Does this alarm the Saudis? It certainly does. They are investing huge amounts of money securing their southern border for that reason. Think of
Q. Do you see anything in common in the Tunisian and Egyptian upheavals?
A. These two upheavals have demonstrated the fallacy of the jihadist position that only Islamic rigidity or extremism is the path to liberty. On the contrary, what you've seen are two upheavals that were not based on religion. The people were Muslims, but that's not what this was about. The idea that only through jihad can you achieve the true destiny of the people has now been exposed as the malarkey that it always was. That is a very positive development. You haven't seen the jihadist topple any dictatorial regimes. They are dictatorial, as we've seen from the Taliban. That is a lesson that will not be lost on the region.
The other thing is that there is now a growing set of opinions or commentary to the effect that the Egyptians have not had a revolution, that they haven't even had a regime change. Mubarak was a front man for the military for thirty years and now they've removed the front man, but the military is in charge. We won't know for some time whether the military really is going to detach itself from power in
Q. Looking over the
A. We are going to go through at least briefly a period of anxiety and maneuvering and questioning. That's quite encouraging, because the region has been politically dormant for so long. I don't see any immediate threat to any other government, but of course we didn't see an immediate threat to the Tunisian regime, did we?
Q. Nor to the Egyptian one.
A. The Egyptian situation is fascinating, but unresolved. After all, the Iranian revolution occurred in 1979, and the Iranian revolution has not yet played itself out. We still don't know what the outcome will be in
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