Post Revolutionary Transitions - An INSS-NDU Conference Report by Dr. Judith S. Yaphe
Post Revolutionary Transitions: A Conference Report
By Judith S. Yaphe
On March 14, 2011, the Institute for National Strategic Studies, in partnership with the US Institute of Peace (USIP) hosted a conference to examine the process of revolution using theoretical and historical examples and applying the common patterns to the dramatic changes in many Arab states. The goal was to extract those factors that drive the process of political and social change and assess whether they can be altered to reach a positive end state.
Harvard-historian Crane Brinton published what has become the classic theory of revolution in 1938. In his book "Anatomy of Revolution", he identified specific stages in the process of revolution and detailed their common characteristics. Revolutions are not made by the poor, according to Brinton. Rather, revolution begins with the government’s financial break-down, the formation of an organization of discontents that makes demands that would effectively lead to the collapse of the Old Order, and efforts by the Old Order to stamp out the opposition by force. It fails and the king, tsar, or prime minister is executed or exiled. After the revolution, the opposition splinters, and moderates, like Alexander Kerensky in Russia and Abolhasan Bani Sadr in Iran, come to power. They were part of the passive opposition of the Old Regime and use its machinery to seek resolution to the problems facing the new government. They are weak leaders, lacking the discipline and ruthlessness needed to survive dangerous times. They are soon replaced by radicals, who are fewer in number, usually middle class, educated and highly disciplined. They are willing to do whatever is necessary to win. This radical phase is accompanied by brutality, a reign of terror, and purges which end, it is said, with “the revolution devouring its children.” The reign of terror eventually burns out, the radicals are removed, and moderation of a sort returns, led by "a man on a white horse." The general—it is usually a military man—restores the status quo ante. The revolution is over, a new Order is established, and except for the Russian revolution, fundamental political and social change, has not taken place.
In February 2011 a poor street vendor in Tunisia set himself on fire to protest his humiliation and impoverishment at the hands of the state. What began here quickly turned into massive street demonstrations in Tunis that resulted surprisingly in the exile of Tunisian President Zine Ben Ali by military and political elites determined to sacrifice their ruler to preserve their power and status. Or was it a more noble sacrifice intended to replace 4 decades of autocracy with a more democratic and open political system? Whatever the intent, the image of popular protests forcing the abdication of an autocrat and gaining at least a partial political opening encouraged people in Egypt, Mauritania, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, Libya, Yemen and even Syria to come into the streets with their cell phones, cameras, and social network access to protest their lack of political freedom and demand reform.
Demands for political reform and government efforts to end the street protests still roil Egypt and Tunisia and have appeared in Oman, Kuwait, and Jordan. The regimes in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, and Libya have responded with shows of force by their military and security services. What we are witnessing are works in progress. In varying degree, the governments in the region are seeking ways to accommodate their critics without conceding power and authority while their opponents see an opportunity to redress years of political and social injustice. How these revolutionary transitions are resolved will depend very much on the willingness of old and new elites to agree to political compromises, the role of the military and religious institutions in defending the virtues of the old order or the just causes of the new one, and restraint by external powers who may have an urge to intervene to protect their interests or achieve a desired outcome.
Read the Conference Report .........
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