For years, the Middle East has been largely run by dictators. Oh, you might hear about an Egyptian election, or voters going to the polls in Jordan, but the vast majority were sham elections, with only one candidate to vote for, or with the outcome predetermined. From Syria to Algeria to Morocco, "elections" were held to help the dictators cement their power.
Real democracy has proven very difficult to establish in the Middle East - an interesting 2007 New York Times article is here - but what is happening right now in Egypt may turn out to be of extreme importance.
Just last month, protestors in Tunisia forced their dictator from office. Now, Egyptian youth are rioting against the three-decade rule of Hosni Mubarak. Much of Mubarak's family has fled the country, and it seems unlikely he can prevail against the public sentiment.
When the Soviet Union began to crumble, the dictators in the outlying countries - Romania, Czechoslovakia, Poland - found it difficult to stay in power, and real reforms came to a large part of the world.
If Mubarak can be forced from Egypt, who is next? And they are asking that question in Saudi Arabia as well, a place where democratic government and free elections could make a huge difference.
We don't always recognize history when it is being made, but January, 2011 could turn out to be a much-studied period in history.