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At the heart of the complaints among the protesters—more than poverty and unemployment and low wages—is the sense that the pervasive corruption of wasta, or connections, must end. People are asking for better governance and accountability. Each Arab nation has its own permutations of a balance of power among tribe, sect, mosque, and military. The most striking and unexpected aspect of the protests is that none of these entities have been at the forefront. Extremism has also been missing. There’s been little talk of jihad, caliphates, or Osama bin Laden. It’s as if Al Qaeda had been suddenly rendered as anachronistic as dictatorial whim and official State Department Middle East policy. It is tempting to see a kind of new pan-Arabism, one that is based not on dictators shaking hands and then whispering plots behind each other’s back but on shared aspirations. Last Wednesday, before the Egyptian Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafik, resigned, he was taken to task by journalists and opposition personalities in a debate televised on an independent satellite channel. He was combative and uncomfortable, but, for the first time that anyone could remember, an Arab leader had to answer difficult questions from fellow-citizens. Faced with a call for a million-man march to demand his ouster, Shafik left office the next day.

Reform and Revolution in the Middle East : The New Yorker | 2011-03-07
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