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Revolution 2011: What comes next is not the end of the story

Some revolutions lead to a flowering of democracy. Some backslide into anarchy or dictatorship. But there's always another chapter to be written.

By Editor / March 6, 2011

President Vaclav Havel pauses before addressing a crowd in 1990, in Liberec, Czech Republic.

Tomasz Tomaszewski/Getty Images/File

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George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” told the story of a stirring revolution dedicated to the proposition that all animals are created equal. One thing led to another, however, and tyranny by pigs replaced tyranny by humans. In the end, the farm’s one great commandment read: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

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Orwell’s novel was an apt description of what happened in the French and Russian revolutions. Louis XVI was bad, “the Terror” and Napoleon were worse – and the czar was nothing compared with Stalin.

It’s easy to be cynical about revolutions. They all start with the excitement of mass protests, the unfurling of defiant banners. As the old order crumbles, strangers hug and vow to recreate the world. Then disappointment sets in, bickering begins, and the revolution runs aground.

Even that is not the end of the story, though. French democracy is now well established. And while modern Russia may not be a model of freedom and human rights, it is a far cry from where it was only 20 years ago.

In a way that people will remember for generations, a revolutionary spirit has been loosed across a broad swath of the world. Historians compare 2011 with 1848 and 1989. (For an indepth look at the current year of revolution, see this Monitor report.)

Yet you can also sense that phase 2 is coming. Egyptians and Tunisians are wondering if there really will be substantive progress toward democracy or if the old guard is just rearranging the furniture. Ethnic and ideological divisions are rising in places like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Libyan and Iranian rebels face the lethal power of regimes fighting for their lives.

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