IT IS TOO SOON AT THIS WRITING TO KNOW HOW THE ARAB revolutions of 2011 will turn out. Will one or more of the Arab states become liberal democracies? Will they become military dictatorships? Is it possible that Islamists will take power? Or will the new regimes that emerge largely replicate those that were overthrown, combining corrupt oligarchical rule with special privileges for the military and the security forces so as to ensure their backing?
Though it does not seem possible to predict the outcome of these revolutions, the fact that they have taken place is, in significant part, a tribute to the success of the human rights movement in spreading its ideas. A desire for an end to such abuses of rights as emergency rule, imprisonment for peaceful dissent, gross mistreatment of detainees, and rigid control of the media were high on the list of the issues that led millions to take to the streets in Tunis, Cairo, and many other cities to demand change. Of course, increased political freedom was not their only concern. Repugnance at the flagrant corruption of the ruling families in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria probably played an equally significant role. As in the case of the revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989, it is impossible to quantify the part played by concern for human rights. It is only possible to say that it had a leading role.
The differences between 1989 and 2011 are important. From a geopolitical standpoint, 1989 was of far greater significance because it brought an