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Will history repeat itself in turbulent Arab nations?

January 31, 2011 12:50 IST

What happened in Iran post-1979 could happen in Tunisia, Egypt and the rest of the Arab world in the coming months, warns B Raman

Everybody wants discredited Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who is still tenaciously sticking to power, to go.

But nobody knows who can command the respect and confidence of the street protesters after he goes. The faces of the real leaders of the revolt are still hidden.

What are the characteristics of the revolution now sweeping across the Arab world?

Is it a genuinely democratic revolution? Many of us, including me, thought it was and still hope it is, but we -- at least I -- are no longer certain it is.

Is it an Islamic Revolution with a democratic mask?

Many of us, including me, thought it was not and still hope it is not, but we -- at least I -- are no longer certain it is not.

Particularly after seeing the welcome that was accorded to 69-year-old Rachid Ghannouchi, the Islamist leader of Tunisia, who returned to the country this weekend after having lived in political exile in Europe for nearly 22 years. Thousands of peopleĀ -- it is a large number for Tunisia -- welcomed him at the Tunis airport. No political ambition, he proclaimed, but nobody in Tunisia takes his proclamation seriously.

The democrats and secularists in Tunisia, who are concerned over his return, were also at the airport to caution him to behave and not to try to hijack the revolution after it has succeeded and turn its white colour into green.

They shouted: "No Islamism, no theocracy, no Sharia and no stupidity!" The number of people whom they could mobilise was very small. Some reports say less than a hundred.

Is it a harbinger of an emerging struggle between democrats and Islamists -- with the Islamists ultimately expropriating the gains of the revolution and imposing an Islamic rule insteadĀ  of the democratic rule hoped for by the protesters?

This is not a far-fetched scenario. It happened in Iran post-1979. The children of what seemed a democratic revolution in the beginning were devoured by the Islamists after they came to power with their help and Islamic rule was imposed on Iran.

As the cliche goes, every revolution begins with noble intentions and ends up by devouring its own children.

What happened in Iran post-1979 could happen in Tunisia, Egypt and the rest of the Arab world in coming months.

Irrespective of whether Mubarak lasts in power for a few more hours, a few more days or a few more months, he is already passe. He is already on his way to the dustbin of history.

How to ensure that democracy and religious and political moderation emerge as the ultimate victor? That is a question to be tackled by the people of these countries. The international community will have little role in deciding the future shape of things to come in these countries. Its options are very limited. One thing it can and should do is to refrain from supporting elements which stand discredited and which have become the anathema of the people. And hope for the best, while mentally preparing itself for less than the best.

B Raman