Arab uprisings need patience, not pessimism

Revolutions such as these require more patience and persistence.

The French revolution brought the end of feudalism. The Chinese and Bolshevik revolutions ushered in communist rule. And the Iranian revolution, fuelled by theologians, was driven by Islamic ideals.

The current Arab uprisings are less ideological but no less sweeping, driven by the seeds of endemic corruption and decades of economic inequality. In such chaos, pessimism can easily promulgate.

But revolutions of these sort require more patience and persistence to see them through to their conclusions. It is worth remembering this as violence continues in Syria, Libya and Yemen, and business remains unfinished from Egypt to Tunisia and beyond.

Seven months on, patience in the Arab world is needed more than ever. As the continued demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square have shown, it is too easy to become restless with the slow rate of reform. Tossing out the old does not right decades of wrongs. Rather, it clears the slate.

The stagnation of these uprisings, and their ensuing dismissal by many commentators as misguided, ignores the fact that they are, and will remain for some time, works in progress.

In Libya, rebel forces are bearing in on Tripoli and the countdown has already begun towards "zero hour", the moment Col Muammar Qaddafi relinquishes his perch. In Syria, calls by the US and the EU for president Bashar Al Assad to step down may have made his position untenable, but still he hangs on. And in Yemen, tribal uncertainty and the threat of violence shroud a nation that president Ali Abdullah Saleh seems to regard as his personal fiefdom.

Representative governments were never going to be seated overnight, not even in Egypt or Tunisia, which saw the speediest overthrow of autocratic rulers. Mere elections will not do the job.

Real reform can only be achieved through a sustained fight against corruption, rebuilding (or in the case of Libya, building from scratch) workable civil institutions. More than anything, the new Arab world must produce leaders who respect and protect their people, rather than oppress them.

All of this will take time, patience and persistent determination. The end of street demonstrations, whenever that comes, must only be viewed as the start of these nations' own revolutions.

Published: August 22, 2011 04:00 AM