It is now 2012 in the Middle East. The new year brings along with it many uncertainties in the days and months to come. The region compared to just one year ago, is fundamentally different. While the final destination of this bus we call the Arab Spring is uncertain, it is clear that our ticket is one-way. Compared to a year ago, the region in 2012 is fundamentally changed.
Future generations will remember 2011 as a year in which the universal aspirations of humanity became crystal clear. For those risking life and limb in the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Tripoli, Damascus, and Manama, the values of freedom and self-determination are far more than words on paper. They are creeds; Rallying calls to end the era of oppression which for decades has stood between the Arab people and their destiny. Watching events unfold live on Arab satellite television, checking Facebook pages, and following feeds on Twitter, the whole world was swept up in the energy and proactivity of a young generation. Where this energy will lead is the question 2012 will begin to answer. But if the Arab Spring is a movie, we surely have seen only the first few minutes.
The new order in the Middle East brings with it many challenges. What will the role of Islamist parties be in government? Will they drive countries to radical fundamentalism, or act rationally to maintain the support of key constituencies on whom they depend?
Will the post-revolutionary states of the Middle East be able to transition fully to democracy? How much democracy is enough democracy? Will the rights of minorities be respected in this process? How long will it take before we can be sure?
While these questions raise the concern, and perhaps the fear, of outside observers, there are also many things in which we can take comfort: In the raw passion for change of the Arab revolutionaries. In the support of those outside the region who see young adults not unlike themselves making a difference. In the refusal of historically oppressed people to fear any longer. In the dedication to a cause which has cost far too many protesters their lives.
Perhaps most importantly, 2011 was a year in which the Middle East, against all odds, became better. It became a place where new opportunities flourished, where the flame of the human spirit ignited, and where the hopes and dreams of the future took root. As 2012 dawns, let us continue to make the region a freer, safer, more peaceful place.
Happy New Year