Tunisia's President Ben Ali talks with Qatar emir Sheikh Hamad, Algeria's President Bouteflika and Syria's President Al-Assad as they pose for a family photograph at the Arab League summit in Sirte on March 27, 2010. (Zohra Bensemra/Courtesy Reuters)
Wide discussion of whether the revolt in Tunisia will now spread to other Arab lands seems to me to ignore two key factors: what is unique in the Tunisian case, and the issue of monarchy.
Tunisia was unique in combining a reasonably advanced society (80 percent literacy, $8,000 per capita GDP) with an extremely repressive personal dictatorship. Algeria, right next door, is different: It is a dictatorship, but one ruled by what is known as “Le Pouvoir,” the power—a shadowy combination of military officials. President Bouteflika has been in power for twelve years, but his is more institutional than personal or familial rule, and it is characterized less by the rapacious corruption of the Ben Ali family in Tunis than by immobility and boredom. Riots might convince the military leaders to dump Bouteflika, but it will be harder in Algeria than in Tunisia to remove the regime.
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