The Stakes in the Middle East

Has the Muslim and Arab Spring been dangerously deflected, its brief moment of democratic hopefulness hijacked by the hard men of power? Observing the bloody events in Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen, not to mention the crackdowns in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, many have drawn just that conclusion. Even in Egypt, where a dictator was successfully toppled and elated citizens flocked to vote in a national referendum, the future seems, at best, up for grabs.

All this has reinforced the worries of those in Israel and the West who warned from the start that little good was likely to come from the popular rebellions rocking the Arab and Muslim world, that they might be followed by long-term chaos and anarchy or by regimes even more repressive and dangerous than those now on or over the edge of collapse.

But not so fast. No movement toward freedom has succeeded in the blink of an eye, absent a struggle, or without periods when all has seemed lost. In the case of this latest movement, not only has its work barely begun, but it is up against a formidable combination of odds. That is why the next phases are so crucial—and why in my view the nations of the free world must, without delay, seize the moment to lend a hand.

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About the Author

Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, is the author (with Ron Dermer) of The Case for Democracy (PublicAffairs) and of Fear No Evil (PublicAffairs), a memoir of his struggle against the KGB and his years as a political prisoner in the Soviet gulag. The present essay is an expansion of his March 13, 2011 op-ed piece in The Washington Post.


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