- By Robert D. KaplanRobert D. Kaplan is the author of Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America’s Role in the World. He is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a senior advisor at the Eurasia Group.
The most telling aspect of the anti-regime demonstrations that have rocked the Arab world is what they are not about: They are not about the existential plight of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation; nor are they at least overtly anti-Western or even anti-American. The demonstrators have directed their ire against unemployment, tyranny, and the general lack of dignity and justice in their own societies. This constitutes a sea change in modern Middle Eastern history.
Of course, such was the course of demonstrations against the Shah of Iran in 1978 and 1979, before that revolution was hijacked by Islamists. But in none of these Arab countries is there a charismatic Islamic radical who is the oppositional focal point, like Ayatollah Khomeini was; nor are the various Islamist organizations in the Arab world as theoretical and ideological in their anti-Americanism as was the Shiite clergy. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt functions to a significant extent as a community self-help organization and may not necessarily try to hijack the uprising to the extent as happened in Iran. And even Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is not quite so identified with American interests as was the shah. The differences between 2011 in Egypt and 1978 in Iran are more profound than the similarities.