I hope that in the long run, the Jasmine Revolution sweeping North Africa will be a good thing for the world. Much depends upon who comes to power post-revolution, of course, (anybody remember Napoleon?), but any movement that is about getting rid of autocratic, dictatorial tin-pot despots ought to be a good thing in the long run.
Keep in mind that the people of North Africa and the Middle East don’t have a history with democracy. This isn’t to say that they can’t embrace democracy, but it takes time. Democracy blossomed in the United States, but it didn’t come full grown on July 4, 1776.
The movement toward self-government had been festering in Europe for more than a hundred years during the Enlightenment. That’s why we were all forced to read Locke and Hobbes in school (do they still even teach Locke and Hobbes?)
The modern Arabian states didn’t exist until the end of World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire (don’t worry, this isn’t a college thesis; I’ll be brief.) After that was a period of colonialism that lasted until the ’50s. Then you had popular revolts that threw off the colonials, and replaced them with the despots. There has not been a democratic movement to build upon. It’s possible, and hopeful, that we’re seeing it now. After all, ideas that took a hundred years to filter through a society back in the day move much faster in our electronic world.
It will be interesting to see how the developed world reacts. There is only one thing politicians respect: power (although respect for the ultimate source of their own power, the consent of the governed, seems to elude them.) You saw it in the Panic of 2008. The politicians stepped in not to save the system, but to save the powerful within that system.
Because there are still an awful lot of despots out there. Some of them we still shake hands with. Some of them run the world’s second largest economy, know what I’m saying?