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Monday, February 21, 2011

The Coming Age of the Junta

Tunisia... Egypt... Bahrain... Iran... Libya... Yemen... Sudan... Jordan... and even Morocco... Who knows where the mania will go next? The street revolts in these places seemed initially to recall 1968. But they are now looking more like 1848. Yet today there is no Marx to make sense of them.

Those who prefer 1848 to 1968 should take heed of the past. The response to those revolutions was violent. They did not, amazingly, result in a major war among any of Europe's major powers unless we consider (as Marx might have done) 1914 to have been the logical outcome of the forces they unleashed. In their own time, however, none, with the partial exceptions of those in Denmark and Switzerland, resulted in the ideal, liberal democracy they urged so passionately. That this happened in 1989, by contrast, had as much to do with the  magnetic existence of NATO and the European Union, and the bankruptcy of Soviet power as it did with the inherent, progressive convictions of the revolutionaries. None of these things, except perhaps the final one, is present in today's Maghreb and Mashrek and elsewhere nearby.

An 1848-scenario in a region as fractious as the Middle East is very worrisome. The best result, according to most informed observers, is a replacement of the region's detested despots with army juntas that will evolve gradually into civilian-led republics. But which group of revolutionaries will be satisfied with such an outcome? Probably none. Meanwhile juntas are not the most stable heads of government. A period of tremendous instability awaits.

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