I am watching the current developments in the middle east with a sense of deja vu — it strongly reminds me of the autumn and winter of 1989, a period during which the formidable barbed-wire-and-concrete studded dominoes of Eastern Europe came crashing down in one revolution after another. First Tunisia, then riots in Algeria, crisis in Egypt, a new Prime Minister in Jordan with urgent orders from the King, a president standing down in Yemen ... where's it going to end?
On a hopeful note, Juan Cole explains precisely why Egypt in 2011 is not like Iran in 1979 — the balance between various social groups makes an Islamic revolution highly unlikely.
Looking for second-order effects, John Quiggin of Crooked Timber explains that the basic premises of US policy towards the region have been rendered invalid. Specifically:
The bigger casualty is the 'Arab exception': the idea that the concept of democracy is not really applicable in Arab countries and that foreign policy therefore amounts to a choice of which dictator to support.Just as Eastern Europe in the 1980s and South America in the 1990s succumbed to a rising tide of democratization, it is possible that the Arab world in the 2010s will similarly see the overthrow or retirement of dictators and the rise of a civil society typified by representative democracies.
Who's left? China? And what do we have when we reach an end state in which representative parliamentary democracy of one strain or another is the default system of government (subject to minor disagreements over how to run the economy, from the total-capitalism no-safety-net Hong Kong model to Scandinavian-style social welfare)?