First the people of Tunisia changed their government. Now we see wide-spread popular dissent emerging in Egypt. And today, it is reported, anti-government demonstrations have surfaced in Yemen:

Thousands of Yemenis today took to the streets of the capital, Sana'a, to demand a change of government, inspired by the unrest that has ousted the Tunisian leader and spread to Egypt. "The people want a change in president," protesters chanted at Sana'a University in one of a series of demonstrations across the city – the largest in a wave of anti-government protests. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a key ally of the US in a battle against the resurgent Yemeni arm of al-Qaida, has ruled the Arabian peninsula state for more than 30 years. At least 10,000 protesters gathered at the university, with about 6,000 more elsewhere in Sana'a. The demonstrations were organised by Yemen's opposition coalition, witnesses said. Police watched, but no clashes were reported. Protesters said they were demanding improvements in living conditions as well as political change. One banner read: "Enough playing around, enough corruption, look at the gap between poverty and wealth."

It would appear that these popular demonstrations are driven by political opportunists in some cases, but appear to be tapping into a real vein of outrage that has simmered below the surface for some years, obviously.

Tunisia seems to have been a spark.  Where the dissatisfied and disaffected in other Arab countries have assumed they were powerless to do anything about their situation, the people's uprising in Tunisia may have given them a different appreciation for their potential power.  Protesters are calling for a change of government. 

From Bloomberg today we learn that President Obama may be willing to intensify US criticism of Egypt if the government cracks down on demonstrators - something he attempted to avoid doing to Iran when such demonstrations were going on there a year ago.

The White House is prepared to step up its criticism of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a key Middle East ally, if his government intensifies its crackdown on protesters, said an administration official. President Barack Obama privately pressed Mubarak in a telephone call last week to embrace democratic changes, said the official, who requested anonymity. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday said Mubarak, in power since 1981, has an “important opportunity” to enact economic, political and social reforms.

Well, that's all fine and wonderful if you believe that "democratic changes" are needed and consider the unrest an "important opportunity" to enact what Clinton calls "economic, political and social reforms."  My bet is Hosni Mubarak and the ruling elite in Egypt don't think they're needed at all.  Especially if it should mean Mubarak and that elite lose power or see their's diminished.

One has to assume that if Obama is willing to call Mubarak out, he has to be willing to call out Yemen's ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The problem, of course, is both are "key allies" in the fight against al Qaeda and supportive of our efforts against them.  And Egypt is a key regional player involved with the Israel/Palestinian question.

The point, of course, is it is good and proper to be for "democratic changes", human rights and free and open government.  The question is, are those what any change will bring?  The answer is, no one knows.  Given, none of the governments in question are paragons of any of those things.  However, before one goes popping off publicly and undermining allies, it would be very important to know what would actually follow the regimes under attack.

The history of the region isn't particularly gratifying in that regard.  And with the rise of radical Islam, secular governments or even moderatly secular governments are rare indeed.

Before the administration decides on a course of action with these less than optimal but none-the-less allied governments it should be pretty darn sure it knows what might follow a Tunisian like overthrow of each.  If the possiblity exists that it might be a radical Islamic theocracy, it might be best to quietly push for "democratic changes" instead of undermining the current governments publicly.  They call it diplomacy for a reason.