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From Libya to Bahrain, Mideast autocracy under fire

After Egypt set Arab imaginations alight, autocrats from Qaddafi to the Khalifa dynasty face an assault unparalleled since the post-World War II revolutions that brought independence.

A Yemeni antigovernment protester shows his hand with writing in Arabic reading: 'Leave' during a demonstration demanding political reform and the resignation of President Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen, on Feb. 13.

Hani Mohammed/AP

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The stunning victories of Tunisians and Egyptians in ousting their entrenched dictators have set imaginations alight across the Middle East like nothing since Gamal Abdul Nasser's fiery anticolonial rhetoric in the 1950s.

"We assumed that if one day an uprising emerged, it would be at the hands of a bold leader. Another strongman to replace the ones we didn't like," wrote popular Jordanian blogger Naseem Tarawnah in a letter of thanks to the Egyptian people. "Never, in our wildest imaginations, did we think this uprising would come from the people. Whatever happens, this ... is something no one can take away from them, or from us. It has been embedded in our memories."

Now, the beleaguered ship of Middle Eastern autocracy is under an assault unparalleled since the post-World War II revolutions that brought independence to much of the region.

Tunisia was the first shot across the bow. But the upheaval in Egypt, the Arab world's largest country, has unleashed a volley of fire from Libya to Iran.

It is not so much the aspirations that are new, but a shared spirit of hope that success is possible against long odds. It's a feeling that is unlikely to dissipate quickly and could fundamentally reshape the region – though how democratic the changes will be remains to be seen.

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