Nothing since Israel's birth has sparked demonstrations of pan-Arabian identity like the self-immolation of a 26-year-old street vendor in Tunisia. When Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself with paint thinner and struck a match on December 17, 2010, it ignited a shared sense of indignity among those living under the thumb of autocratic rulers across North Africa and the Middle East.
Just eight weeks later, pro-democracy activists are celebrating the end of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's 23-year rule, as well as Hosni Mubarak's 30-year reign in Egypt. In each country, initial protests were met with violence and media crackdowns, followed by concessions that failed to mollify pro-democracy activists.
Protests are now rocking Algeria and Yemen, where presidents have ruled for 12 years and 33 years, respectively. Both countries appear to be following the scripts written in Tunisia and Egypt. Police and pro-government thugs are attacking and detaining protesters and journalists in Algeria, and security forces are beating back young demonstrators in Yemen.
Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria and Yemen are far from isolated examples of unrest. Protests are presently planned for February 14 in Bahrain, February 17 in Libya, and February 20 in Morocco. Thousands have already taken to the streets in Jordan. Syrian security forces are taking preemptive measures to head off protests there. The Sudanese government is reportedly beating and gassing protesters. Lebanese activists are also taking to the streets.
Meanwhile, as officials rush to quell demonstrations across the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian Authority announced September elections. The announcement, which was received cynically by Hamas leaders, was made after the resignation of Saeb Erekat, the nation's chief negotiator with Israel whose office leaked the Palestine Papers, detailing extensive concessions being discussed with Israel in peace talks. In the wake of regional uprisings, the elections are an apparent attempt by the governing force of the West Bank to head off further unrest.
Economic woes, corruption and repressive regimes are standard fare in the Arab World. These conditions are now triggering uprisings across the region that suggest the blossoming of a new pan-Arabian identity.
"We are now witnessing the emergence of a movement for democracy that transcends narrow nationalism or even pan-Arab nationalism and which embraces universal human values that echo from north to south and east to west," writes Lamis Andoni, a veteran Middle East correspondent. "Unlike the pan-Arabism of the past, the new movement represents an intrinsic belief that it is freedom from fear and human dignity that enables people to build better societies and to create a future of hope and prosperity."