The view from Egypt

Thousands of Egyptian anti-Mubarak protesters shout slogans as they take part in a demonstration at Tahrir square in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 8, 2011. AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

Four or five more autocratic regimes in the Middle East will be gone by the end of the year. Or so thinks Hisham Kassem, a newspaper editor in Cairo - and also the recipient of a prestigious National Endowment for Democracy award for his championing of press freedom. 

He is optimistic about the longer term future of the Middle East. Today's autocratic governments are destined to be overthrown, he said, by the simple force of demographics and economics. 

A swelling younger generation needs more jobs than a sclerotic dictatorship can provide. "It won't necessarily be literally a domino principle where one state stops and the next starts," he says. "But it is easy to see within a year four or five regimes being toppled."

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But in the shorter term, Hisham is less optimistic about the chances for peaceful change in the Middle East, and reluctantly confesses he expects to see a lot more bloodshed in the region. The army never opened fire in Tahrir Square, but that may prove to be the exception, not the rule.

 "The Egyptian military are far more professional than military in other countries and they knew the consequences of using their weapons against the people, but I don't think that will be the case in other countries," he said.

It is a fear that is growing around the region, as a number of autocrats steel themselves against the growing wave of unrest , and give their security forces the orders to use deadly force if necessary. 

Already it is clear that there has been live fire used in Yemen, Libya and Iran. And Thursday in Bahrain the riot police attacked protesters very aggressively in Pearl Square in Manama, leaving at least three dead. Egypt's carefully calibrated ways may not translate so easily into other cultures and political set-ups.

Hisham, like many Egyptians, is feeling pretty good about the situation these days. Since they overthrew Mubarak, many Egyptians feel they have regained their proper role as leaders of the Arab world,  something they last enjoyed under President Nasser, the pan-Arabist leader who ruled Egypt from 1956 to 1970. 

Now that they have a newly-liberated media, Egyptians can look around the Middle East, and see how dictators, kings and autocrats arebbeing challenged by their own people. The protesters are all trying to follow Egypt's example. The problem is that the security forces they are up against are not.

  • Terry McCarthy

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