I was always one skeptical of the “Arab spring.” My skepticism is modulated and qualified. I think Tunisia has the prospects of becoming a normal nation-state to a far greater extent than Libya, for example. But I was of the opinion that these “revolutions” were mostly elite-driven, and, that they didn’t address the reality that there’s a major structural problem with any possible economic growth in these autarkic economies. Whenever I brought up the example of Iraq as an example of what mass democracy in a Middle Eastern nation can do to religious minorities I would have people (often Western liberals) complain that this was too pessimistic, jumping the gun, while Egyptian commenters would accuse me of being delusional and not representing the reality.
My most pessimistic concerns have no arisen, thank god (though I think Syria is probably the “best” candidate for a major social meltdown in the wake of revolution because of its pluralism). But it has not been calm after the storm. The New York Times reviews the situation and hints at the tensions in Tunisia and Egypt, what is crystallizing in Libya, and the fears of minorities in Syria.
Societies are complex, contingent, and organic things. Just as human nature is not a “blank slate,” so a culture can not be reconstructed on totally different foundations de novo after a revolution. Even the most extreme attempts, such as that of Mao and Pol Pot, have failed in the long term. It is one part of human nature to be optimistic, and long too the upside of things. But another part is to be caution, worry, and yell “stop!” I’m not going to cease playing my part.