Aftermath of Revolution

By Michael Albertus; Victor Menaldo | International Herald Tribune, February 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

Aftermath of Revolution


Michael Albertus; Victor Menaldo, International Herald Tribune


The Arab uprisings confirm that revolutions often do not usher in democracy.

The recent assassination of a leading secular opposition figure in Tunisia has cast a dark cloud on what many had hoped would serve as a model for democratic transition in countries swept by the Arab Spring. The sad fact is that many revolutions lead to renewed dictatorships. But the good news is that even a rocky and prolonged transition can produce stable democracy.

Sparked in Tunisia in 2010, the revolutions and popular protests that have come to define the Arab Spring spread rapidly across the Middle East and North Africa, challenging entrenched autocratic regimes and conjuring comparisons to the fall of the Berlin Wall. For many, the spread of freedom and democracy seemed inevitable.

Yet Syria's bloody civil war continues to drag on, while President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood attempt to institutionalize an old-fashioned power grab in Egypt. In Tunisia, the ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, has ridden roughshod over secularists. President Moncef Marzouki's center-left secular party, Congress for the Republic, quit Tunisia's coalition government on Feb. 10 following massive protests.

Alas, there is considerable precedent for these setbacks. Most revolutions simply replace one autocratic government with another.

Since the end of World War II, there have been roughly 50 major revolutions that have either toppled autocratic regimes or led to significant political reform in "flawed" democracies. For those revolutions that have occurred under dictatorships, only about a third have resulted in transitions to democracy.

Two infamous cases that might raise some alarm bells about the Middle East today are the theocracy that followed Iran's 1979 revolution, and the "republican" dictatorships of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak after Egypt's 1952 revolution. Similarly, the checkered political histories of post-revolutionary China, Cuba, Mexico and Russia might make even the most fervent revolutionaries take pause.

Still, the minority of the democracies that have managed to emerge in the aftermath of their revolutionary ferment provide cause for optimism. Less than a handful of those revolutionary transitions have reverted back to dictatorship. For every Kyrgyzstan, where there has been autocratic backsliding since the Tulip Revolution, there are a dozen examples of democracies that have arisen in the wake of revolution -- including surprises such as the Philippines.

While democracies that emerge from revolution are typically stable, this does not mean that the transition process is rapid or seamless. …

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