A new piece in Foreign Policy, titled Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong, is a great read to put the Arab revolutions in a wider context. In the last few years of observing the Egyptian scene, I had become convinced that most of all Egypt was going through a moment of moral crisis and the moral collapse of the Mubarak regime's legitimacy. I still believe it was the key factor that made the January 25 possible. This passage in the FP piece, by Leon Aron, comes after an explanation of how the Soviet Union appeared solid in most respects, and is very instructive in that regard:
For though economic betterment was their banner, there is little doubt that Gorbachev and his supporters first set out to right moral, rather than economic, wrongs. Most of what they said publicly in the early days of perestroika now seems no more than an expression of their anguish over the spiritual decline and corrosive effects of the Stalinist past. It was the beginning of a desperate search for answers to the big questions with which every great revolution starts: What is a good, dignified life? What constitutes a just social and economic order? What is a decent and legitimate state? What should such a state's relationship with civil society be?
"A new moral atmosphere is taking shape in the country," Gorbachev told the Central Committee at the January 1987 meeting where he declared glasnost -- openness -- and democratization to be the foundation of his perestroika, or restructuring, of Soviet society. "A reappraisal of values and their creative rethinking is under way." Later, recalling his feeling that "we couldn't go on like that any longer, and we had to change life radically, break away from the past malpractices," he called it his "moral position."
In a 1989 interview, the "godfather of glasnost," Aleksandr Yakovlev, recalled that, returning to the Soviet Union in 1983 after 10 years as the ambassador to Canada, he felt the moment was at hand when people would declare, "Enough! We cannot live like this any longer. Everything must be done in a new way. We must reconsider our concepts, our approaches, our views of the past and our future.… There has come an understanding that it is simply impossible to live as we lived before -- intolerably, humiliatingly."
I think that understanding has come to much of the Arab world in the last decade, and the belief that it is possible to do something about it came after what happened in Tunisia.