The future of the Arab Spring in 2012

Last year, revolutions led to political changes in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. So what's next for the Middle East in 2012?

Tess Vigeland: This week we've been running a series of commentaries to mark the start of the new year, predicting the 2012 headlines that you'll be talking about. But today we're taking a step back to a story that dominated the news in 2011.

Commentator Reza Aslan says the Arab Spring isn't finished quite yet.

Reza Aslan: 2011 served as a reminder to us all that no regime can stand up to the will of a people united in the cause of freedom and democracy. In the span of a year, dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya fell, and significant political reform was forced upon the governments of Morocco, Jordan, and Oman. Now, as the Arab Spring enters a new year -- with revolutions still smoldering in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, and beyond -- there's one question we should ask: Can religiously inspired parties that have come to political prominence in the aftermath of these popular uprisings transform themselves into responsible members of democratic governments?

Pundits and politicians are already ringing the alarm bells. The common refrain you hear in the US: The Middle East is being overrun with religious radicals bent on oppressing women and destroying Israel.  That is nonsense, of course.  Nevertheless, there is no doubt that political Islam will be a force in the new, democratic Middle East. And that is a good thing. It is time for these religious parties to stop hiding in the mosque and instead be forced to compete openly in the marketplace of ideas for the votes of a free electorate. After all, what could be more important to a burgeoning democracy than an open debate about the role of religion in society? A few months ago, such talk would have landed you in prison. Today, it is part of the vibrant political debate that is taking place all over the Middle East.

It remains to be seen whether the newly elected Islamist parties in Egypt and Tunisia will moderate their ideologies and focus on the immediate demands of the people who voted them into office. But this much is certain: If they do not -- if they spend their time railing about the West instead of creating jobs for the people -- they'll be booted out of office just as quickly as they were voted in.

That's how democracies work. And whether we like it or not, for the first time in decades, neither the aging autocrats in the region nor their American backers have anything to say about it.

Vigeland: Reza Aslan is the author of "No God but God." Got a comment?  Write to us.

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I agree with your commentary Reza. The interim president of Tunisia, Moncef Marzouki, has rightly described the alarms sounding off in the West as absurd. After all, don't we have Christian democratic political parties in Europe, and oh, let's not forget, all of the right wing Christian sects fighting for power amongst the Republicans? There is life beyond the Western dictators and colonizers.

democracy in the middle east? will it be like Taiwan? or south Korea? or Japan?
well. lets see. I have my doubts about the so call democracy creating peace or liberty or so call freedom to the masses. and the reason is this. all system in the world develop rounds on a close group of powerful individuals. these individual will feed and take care of there own regardless if they get voted in or not. a sort of organized crime family if you will. in Taiwan yes! in south Korea yes! in Japan yes! ALL democracy have some ties to organized crime families. but hey its not call organized crime families its call special interest. or corporations or citizen's think tanks, etc. of course some of these group are benevolent. just as there are benevolent dictators there are benevolent organized crime families. and like benevolent dictators, they last longer then the elected holder of office. and more so they have the money and background to elect people that they can buy INTO office. so many example you can just throw a rock in to a democratic country and hit one. so this is what you and the citizen are fighting for. one power takes over, they take care of their own, then another power takes over, they take care of their own and so on and so on. until one of these so call democrat elected leader decide to stop other from doing the same then once again you got a dictatorship. again more killing more corruption, more of the same, again and again you are back where you started from. well have a good day thinking about it!

So this person thinks radical Islamists will get voted out?? He thinks these "religiously inspired" parties will moderate their views? That these people will not "oppress women and destroy Israel"?

So why am I reading "Muslim Brotherhood: Israel peace deal isn't binding" http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4169609,00.html ??

Please get the stars out of your eyes and look at the real world. Once radical Islamists are voted in, they take over and make it impossible to be voted out. How many lessons in history and current events do you need to accept reality?

While I hope your optimism is borne out, I can't help but be reminded of the ouster of the Shah of Iran and the Iranian "revolution".

Democracy is not in the voting, it's in the counting.

I very much hope you are right Reza. Yes, it is time for both religious and secular parties to participate in the political dialog and stand or fall on their own merit before their people. But I fear you might be a bit naive when you rule out the things that can go wrong in spite of democratic intentions. Your optimism is countered by the very real example of Iran; a democracy in name, but ruled ultimately by a religious hierarchy that is beyond the will of the people. Then there is Pakistan; a democracy in name, but controlled for all practical purposes by it’s military. This reminds us that things can and have sometimes gone very wrong. Again I hope that you are right; that the Arab world has reached a threshold beyond which they will not allow their best aspirations to be derailed.

Reza! Buddy! We need to talk. Methinks a quick primer on the history of democracies is in order.

Even a cursory understanding of history proves that democracies can be hijacked by zealots bent on retaining power and suppressing the democratic process. If you need any examples during the past century, I direct your attention to pre-war Germany and Spain and, more recently, Iran, Lebanon, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and a couple dozen nations on the African continent, just to name a paltry few.

I agree that it's high time for moderate "religious parties to stop hiding in the mosque" and compete "in the marketplace of ideas," but in case you haven't been taking notes, the impetus for the Arab Spring wasn't the fruit of moderates or Islamists but educated liberals who knew there were options and had frankly had enough. Letting liberals start a democractic movement and then letting Religionists take it from there, scares the bejezus out of liberals and Westerners both.

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