These last days, like so many others, I’ve been spending hours watching Al-Jazeera, watching history being written in real time. The opposition movement in Egypt, following the democratic revolution in Tunisia, is carrying us through the second act of the astonishing "Arab Spring". Or the "1989 of the Arabs".

It is both gripping and inspiring. Hardly any of us had citizen revolutions in major Arab countries on our radar screens. The populations of those countries have been described as frustrated and apathetic, easily manipulated by autocrats and Islamists. And now this. The young generation in the cities is not so very different from students in the West. They have the same desires. And thanks to the Internet they’re actually living in the same orbit.

Perhaps the Internet and social media are having a much more dramatic impact on the general consciousness than we have assumed till now. The so-called experts really know nothing, because there has been too much flux in the past one or two years, and learned expertise often falls back on a long history – which may have been dramatically overtaken by recent social modernisation processes without the "experts" having even noticed.

‘The instability doesn't seem to bother the Arabs’

What surprises me – no, what really shocks me, what I can really get worked up about – is the mood in quite a few quarters. It sounds like this: “For God's sake, this instability is dangerous... Doesn’t seem to bother the Arabs though, does it, huh?... Probably just going to land them with a mullah dictatorship!... The secular autocrats were always pretty comfortable!”

This is as morally depraved as if in 1989 one would have advised Václav Havel, Jens Reich [civil rights activist in the tottering GDR] and the many citizens who had had enough of their rotten regime to please continue bowing down to Honecker, Husak and the other grey-faced men. After all, one really couldn’t tell what might come out of all that insurrection – who knows, maybe even a reunified Germany with a taste for war.

Such an attitude shows not just a certain squalor, it reveals a total disinterest in the true situation. Anyone who looks even casually into the contemporary Arab civil rights movement quickly grasps that the Islamists are playing a much smaller role than one might assume.

Protests caught Islamists by surprise

The people want democracy and freedom, not mullahs. Indeed, some evidence even suggests that the influence of the Islamists, such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, has waned.

Things are dramatically on the move, and this is a historic opportunity. People change when they breathe in their first freedom. And that also means, quite simply, that no one knows how it will play out. We’re now watching an urban middle class sweep away the autocrats. Free elections may lead only to disillusionment. Who can say what makes the farmers in the Nile Delta tick? No one. It is a huge opportunity.

To be sure, great opportunities can fall through. But just because failure may lie ahead, should one really cling to stability for the sake of it? Isn’t that always the argument that the dictators trot out?

What our sceptical grouch is lacking is political imagination, a sense of what’s possible. But this is not only a simple consequence of a lack of imagination; it also has a racist core. It goes like this: “Democracy among the Arabs? Never works. They prefer autocrats.” How appalling all that is.

‘Democracy is a step into the unknown’

When societies, when free citizens take their affairs in hand and seek out new laws, then of course it’s always a step into the unknown. And the unknown comes with risks. It has always been so down through history, but without taking risks there would never have been progress, and democracy would never have got a foothold anywhere.

The objection that democracy is dangerous is as old as the quest for human freedom. It’s always brought up by those who cling to stability. If our ancestors had listened to them we would still be living in serfdom, muzzled by the clergy, and cowering under the lash of the princes.