After Egypt revolt, Mideast regimes decide to take off the gloves

From Libya to Bahrain to Iran, Mideast leaders are concluding that force, not freedom, is the answer to protest movements.

AP Photo/Hasan Jamali
Bahraini soldiers in tanks and armored vehicles stand ready near a main highway west of the capital of Manama, Bahrain. Armed patrols prowled neighborhoods and tanks appeared in the streets after riot police with tear gas and clubs drove protesters from a main square where they had demanded sweeping political change in this tiny kingdom.

Tiananmen not Tahrir seems to be the lesson that other Middle Eastern leaders have drawn from the Egyptian revolution.

Iran, Bahrain, and Libya have reacted much more brutally to anti-government demonstrators than Egypt did. Bahrain, an otherwise moderate Arab nation, has cracked down hard, routing demonstrators from the center of the capital. Protesters have been killed in clashes with police in several Libyan cities. Iran showed no mercy to opponents who took to the streets earlier this week.

But the world of 2011 is vastly different from 1989, when Beijing's communist rulers suppressed the democracy movement. For one thing, the Internet was barely a presence back then. And with China on the first leg of an historic economic boom, Beijing was able to convince its citizens that order trumped free expression.

In the Middle East, economic prospects are bleak, especially for young people. And the Internet gives them a powerful organizing tool. An authoritarian regime can clamp down for a while, but not forever. Want proof? Iran shut down the 2009-'10 opposition movement, but it reemerged to challenge the regime in 2011. It may have to go back underground now, but it isn't gone.

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