Ripple Protests Could Topple U.S. Allies

(CNN)

Tunisia has brought a blast of reality to Mideast politics. Aging autocrats have been put on notice they can no longer count on docile citizens.

But is an era of unrest approaching? Will the winds of change sweep east along the Maghreb and bring down regimes from North Africa to the Levant and even the Arabian Peninsula?

Beyond doubt, those winds are blowing. Across the region they are being driven by the same social and economic factors, including high unemployment, a booming birth rate, and exploding food prices.

According to the International Monetary Fund, if chronic unemployment and the social tensions that accompany it are to be avoided the Middle East needs to create another 18 million jobs in the next 10 years. From where they stand today that's a very tall order indeed.

Amre Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general and former Egyptian foreign minister, warned regional leaders last week: ""It is on everybody's mind that the Arab spirit is broken. The Arab spirit is down by poverty, unemployment and the general decline in the real indicators of development.""

Regional parties like the moderate Islamists in the Muslim Brotherhood, scent opportunity. ""The same disease is in all Arab countries, we have different degrees only but the same origin of the disease, it is the same dictatorship, lack of democracy, lack of freedom restrictions on civil society,"" Esam el-Erian, spokesman for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood said.

In Egypt as in other countries in the region the Muslim Brotherhood faces constant government harassment.Hosni Mubarak, the 82-year-old Egyptian president, fears their populist power. He allows them and other opponents of his regime a very limited political voice, enough he hopes to defuse anger at the monopoly of power he has exercised over 30 years in power.