As the world digests the implications of the death of Osama bin Laden, a set of events of arguably far greater importance than the death of a semi-retired terrorist, continue. These events had their genesis in Tunisia in December 2010 and now sail under the generic flag of the ‘Arab Spring’ – but spring is not advancing at the same rate everywhere in the Arab world, and not all the countries under the Arab Spring flag are Arab. In Tunisia, democracy is still a work in progress, and the turmoil in both eastern states, Libya and Egypt, makes life difficult for a country that has seen its tourism industry collapse and whose natural reserves make it a pygmy beside giants. In Libya a civil war has ground to a stalemate with Qaddafi not just clinging to power but holding on to it despite sustained aerial bombardment by a coalition of European nations that are beginning to wonder what they have got themselves into. Bahrain has dropped off the headlines – but the government there is planning to prosecute the doctors who bravely treated those wounded in the riots in February and March. A transition of power is supposed to be under way in Yemen but looks increasingly doubtful as the days pass. A brutal crackdown against protesters in Syria indicates that Bashar al-Assad is no more likely to listen to his people than his father was.
It is Egypt that has begun to emerge into the light after decades of repression. Within the last few days, one of the great logjams of Middle Eastern politics, the stand-off between Fatah and Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Gaza, has edged a little closer to resolution, courtesy of the Egyptians. They have brokered a rapprochement that is as yet far from being a peace agreement between the feuding factions, but at least provides a starting point for talks about talks. Israel views this with scepticism and the Americans are in a bind as they have not been a part of the process. None of this would have been possible under the Mubarak regime and may be an indicator of the future ownership and resolution of local problems by nations local to the Middle East -- a real change in the way the world does business. It is also of note that in none of the countries where revolt has happened or is in process has there been anything other than a symbolic presence of Islamists or extremists in the actions that have challenged regimes. These are secular revolutions, not the Islamist revolutions predicted for a decade by Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. This in itself is an indicator of how marginalised and unrepresentative Al-Qaeda is, and how out of touch with popular sentiment. The Arab springs will continue, and there will be no going back to whatever was in place six months ago. Finally, after more than 60 years, the Arab states may have begun to move into a truly post-colonial era.