It is too early to tell if Tunisia will be able to move towards establishing a real democracy that addresses the concerns of the protesters – the small forward steps are still reversible at this stage.
But it is important to keep in mind that the protesters in Tunisia were angered by much more than economics. Tunisia was a police state where corruption was pervasive for years, and credible complaints about political rights brought people into the street.
The unanticipated crisis in Tunisia has altered the status quo in the Arab world, and it's critical that the region doesn't go back to business as usual. There are three unavoidable lessons that Arab leaders can't ignore.
The first is that it is easy to point the finger at high prices and unemployment as the principal reasons for the protests, but it's not that simple. Several countries are already taking short-term steps, including subsidies for basic staples and better salaries, but this won't work for ever. Real solutions need to improve democratic and political rights, fight corruption, and defend the rule of law.
The second point that everyone needs to realise is that no country is safe – all Arab countries are under threat. There's a tendency among Arab leaders and their advisers to take comfort in the differences that their countries have with Tunisia and to assume that kneejerk handouts can easily deal with economic grievances. But this is a false sense of safety and obviously doesn't hold with the unfolding events in Egypt.
The tumult wasn't supposed to happen in Tunisia – it's one of the last countries in the Arab world where people expected things to go wrong. The country experienced relatively good economic growth, the government faced a mild opposition, and the ruling regime enjoyed a strong security force. But this didn't prevent people from taking to the streets. With this in mind, no leader is immune.
And the last lesson is that old arguments rationalising tight controls on politics to keep Islamists from gaining power are fundamentally undermined. Governments use the fear of Islam to justify closed political systems that clamp down on all forms of discontent.
But Tunisia changes the narrative. The actions of one person – an individual who wasn't associated with a militant group or Islamist party – were able to trigger widespread protests about political rights. Repressing people's opinions gives them no way to voice their complaints.
The question now becomes whether or not the Arab world will learn from example. The signs so far are disappointing, as it doesn't appear that Arab leaders are following the right lessons. Every country needs to initiate long-term, sustained and serious political reform before it's too late.