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How the other Arab strongmen are holding up

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud (R) reviews the honour guard with Jordanian King Abdullah II (L) at Maraka airport in the Jordanian capital Amman, 28 June 2007.

Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images/Hassan Ammar/AFP/Getty Images

The uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia have electrified Arabs everywhere, a potential precursor to the rise of a new Middle East - and one that may not necessarily serve American interests.

The so-called secular, autocratic, corrupt and pro-U.S. regimes from Morocco to Yemen - otherwise labelled as "moderate" - are feeling the contagion of ire.

Some of the vulnerable dictators are rightly apprehensive and are belatedly promising reforms to soothe further popular discontent. Several are trying to lock up world supplies of grain while they can still afford it.

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If changes continue to unfold in the region, a more populist Middle East will be less pro-American and less likely to support Israel. Powerful Islamic parties might likely replace the ousted ones, not because people get their cues from their religion but because many of these groups have persuaded them that the West is their enemy, such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, or the Islamists, Socialists and Nasserites participating in Yemen's "day of rage" on Thursday.

But like Tolstoy's unhappy families, every country is unhappy in its own distinct way. And some are less volatile than others.

In the rich Gulf states, for example, leaders likely sense that comfort trumps the curtailing of basic rights, and feel more secure that the relative standards of living they've achieved makes them more stable, although freedom of expression and the press is non-existent.

Other more economically precarious countries might not have the luxury of time. Jordan's King Abdullah II swiftly responded to opposition demands and on Tuesday sacked his unpopular prime minister after street protests across the country inspired by the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority announced it would hold elections "as soon as possible." However, Palestinians are skeptical, pointing to the divisions within their ranks, something that has prevented elections since 2006.

Yet the regimes antagonistic to the U.S. are not faring much better. Already there are calls by Syrian websites and opposition for similar protests against their autocratic leader, Bashar al-Assad.

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