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Fearless protesters challenge regimes around Middle East

The toppling of Tunisia's president is having a ricochet effect across the Arab world with demonstrators trading fear for solidarity.

January 30, 2011|By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times

As in Tunisia, the traditional opposition groups are playing a secondary role in the uprisings, even rushing to catch up. Tunis' Nahda, an Islamist party, appears to have played absolutely no role in the uprisings. Muslim Brotherhood branches in Egypt and Jordan appear to be at least two steps behind the protesters.

And young people, long derided as apolitical and apathetic, are racing ahead, redefining themselves, creating a new political consciousness built around Facebook instead of a political leader or ideology and demanding nothing short of a toppling of the regime and the downfall of the ruling elite.

Western officials reflexively fear Middle East revolutions, in part because of Iran's 1979 uprising that established the Islamic Republic, a source of extremist ideology throughout the region. But many of the Arab world's Islamists don't tout the Iranian model.

Instead, they point to Turkey's example, where a moderately Islamist political party untainted by corruption has improved the economy and increased the country's international influence while expanding democratic participation.

Popular uprisings aren't guaranteed victory. Hungarians chafing against Soviet rule in 1956 and Iranians protesting political repression in 2009 lost their fear, only to be beaten back into submission by repressive governments that gave no ground.

But observers in the Arab world say the Tunisian role model did not inspire just because it led to Ben Ali's departure; it also provided a potential road map toward real democracy.

Abu Rumman explained: "The Arabs began to understand that they could reach democracy by going to the street."

daragahi@latimes.com

Special correspondent Sihem Hassasini in Tunis contributed to this report.

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