With much of the Middle East in turmoil, several Josef Korbel School experts on the region have kept busy providing their analyses on the unrest.
"This is a transformative moment in the politics of the Middle East and the Islamic world," Nader Hashemi, assistant professor on Middle East and Islamic affairs, said after the protests in Egypt began. "No one could have predicted this. The old authoritarian order is crumbling and a new one emerging. What that new one will be has yet to be determined."
Speaking February 2 at a Middle East Discussion Group sponsored event, Professor Joe Szyliowicz said that the Middle East has long been characterized by limited democracy, no development, corrupt dictatorships, and economic stagnation. So the events taking place now should not be surprising.
"People are demanding a greater voice and far reaching changes," Szyliowicz said. "But this has happened before and all kinds of expectations were aroused-- none of which, or very little, were fulfilled."
Szyliowicz did share some optimism, however, wondering if this time will be different due to the new variable of social media.
"Social media has given the people a powerful tool-- the ability to organize and communicate," he said.
Szyliowicz added that the army is a key actor in both Tunisia and Egypt and that neither have very viable political parties. He stressed the importance of not rushing to elections in Egypt so groups can mobilize and obtain resources so they have a chance to effectively compete in free elections. Szyliowicz added that Tunisia has a higher quality middle class and the odds of a positive outcome is more likely in Tunisia than it is in Egypt.
Lecturer Rob Prince shared this sentiment on Tunisia. Prince cited three main reasons for the overthrow of the Tunisian government: economic issues-- Tunisia has massive unemployment and a growing disparity between the rich and poor; corruption; and political oppression.
"Tunisia has low wage jobs with highly educated people," Prince said. "That combination really just couldn't last. If the economic relationship changes then I believe some interesting thing could happen."
Bassam Hassan, A Josef Korbel School alumnus and visiting professor from Egypt, said that the unrest in the region is not about irrational Arabs or pan-Islamists creating instability. He added that the attention in America should be more focused on what is best for the people in the streets dying and less on the implications the protests have on the United States.
"No one is talking about their interests, their aspirations," Hassan said of the protestors. "Everyone is talking of it as a crisis but for the people of the region it's a moment of hope. It's a movement of an entire people."
But for many the implications these uprisings have on U.S. interests is a matter worth discussing.
"The basic issue that the U.S. faces is very simple," Szyliowicz said. "On one hand you have security and on the other hand you have human rights and development. What kind of balance do you strike when you want to achieve both of those goals? Perhaps we place too much weight on security."
After the President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, ceded to the protestors' demands and relinquished power, the Institute for the Study of Israel in the Middle East (ISIME) sponsored a Professors' Forum on February 17 titled, "A Middle East Snapshot: What's Next?"
At this forum, Szyliowicz said that changes in Egyptian policy toward Israel should be expected, but what direction those changes will take is hard to tell.
"Egypt is the key and remains the key because only Egypt has the military power to pose a threat to Israel," he said. "Israel prosperity depends on peace with Egypt."
Hashemi addressed the possibility of the revolution spreading to Iran, a country whose struggle for democracy Hashemi described as in many ways unique. He said a new youth population has come of age and they are deeply resentful of the country's economic problems and authoritarianism.
"Advocates for democracy in Iran have to deal with two things: the challenge of Islamic authenticity and the challenge of anti-imperialism," Hashemi added.
He explained that the Iranian regime controls its people through Islamic law and by claiming to be the forefront vanguard of preventing imperialism.
All the speakers seemed to agree that the current turmoil in the region blindsided the world and what direction the future of these countries will take is unclear.
"What's happening in the Middle East is a failure of U.S. foreign policy," Prince said. "We're not sure how to deal with these changes."
-M. Schwinn, MA candidate in International Security
Josef Korbel School of International Studies