Following the success of reformers in Tunisia, the protesters are out in Algeria. Egypt has seen its first self-immolation, as security guards at the entrances to government offices have swapped their AK47s for fire extinguishers, so sensitive are governments to this extreme form of protest. Soon the ripples will reach Morocco, and even Libya, host to the region's migrant workers, will not be immune. The Maghreb and Egypt, Europe's closest second-world neighbours, are starting to undergo a period of profound change, but one based not on Islamic militancy and Jihad against the West, but on a hunger for equity and dignity and an end to political corruption. And even Saudi, the heart of terrorism and extreme Islamism in the region, but with a migrant slave population that dwarfs the wealthy native arabs, must be fearful for the future.
There are several layers of force at work; there is an aspirational middle class, with access to the internet, satellite TV and higher education, hungry for reward and recognition. There is a large squeezed bottom end, intensely vulnerable to economic shocks. There is a secularism that admits both of women's roles, and in many cases of alcohol. There are those of the privileged international Caliph class, ready to recruit popular discontent and harness it to their own power plays. There is also an Islamism closer to Turkey's secular regime than to Saudi Wahhabism. And of course there are China and India, also with an educated nascent middle class and cheap factory labour, that have been more attractive in securing the car plants and plastic components factories that could have been the Maghreb's economic future.
Although both France and Turkey have opportunities here to play key roles, the US and Israel have nothing to look forward to; a free and democratic Maghreb will be hostile to both. As for the UK, we're best staying completely neutral on this, but with a couple of warships on standby in Gibraltar Bay. We might even learn something.