Is this the Arab World’s “1989”?

The world changed forever, in the space of just a few months, in 1989. Decades of unrest and uncertainty burst into action around the world. In a few short months the world had changed – political, economic, social, cultural, corporate and private spheres dramatically – and irrevocably – took new paths.

Tiananmen Square (Beijing, 5 June), Ayatollah Khomenei’s chaotic funeral (Tehran, 6 June), the Baltic Way (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania; 23 August), the Berlin Wall coming down (9 November), the Velvet Revolution (Prague, 17 November), the execution of Nicolae Ceaucescu (Bucharest, 25 December), and the banning of the Communist Party in Russia (Moscow, 26 December) – all political revolutionary moments that changed their countries, and the world.

The Lockerbie bombing had started something on 21 December 1988. And the release of Nelson Mandela (Cape Town, 11 February, 1990) book ends this dramatic year. 1989 also was the year of the invention of the HTTP that forms the foundation of the world wide web, the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and the debut of The Simpsons on TV.

A few weeks ago I attended a think tank session run by our friends and associates at Gatehouse Advisory Partners. Sir Jeremy Greenstock (a contributor on this blog) commented that he thought that what was happening in Tunisia “was the beginning of something for the whole region”. Just two days later, the protests started in Egypt. And a few days after that reports of change came from Jordan and Yemen.

Today there are murmurings in Iran and elsewhere.

Maybe history will look back and see 2011 as the Arab world’s “1989” moment. (NOTE: I realise that Iran is not part of the “Arab world”, but then Tunisia isn’t part of the “Middle East”, and “Muslim world” is not the right geographic term either. I am sure you know which part of the world I mean, though). The world is certainly due another era defining event. They do seem to happen every 20 years or so (think 1989, 1968, 1945, 1929…).

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