Comparing the Arab Revolts: The Lessons of 1989

Issue Date October 2011
Volume 22
Issue 4
Page Numbers 13-23
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Since it began, the Arab spring has been subject to a proliferation of comparisons with 1989, and rightly so. Two decades after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, we have learned a great deal about regime transitions—lessons that can improve our understanding of events in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) today. Unfortunately, the comparison does not make one optimistic about democracy’s near-term prospects there. Those regimes rooted in recent revolutionary struggle often survive even the most severe economic crises or opposition challenges, as did China’s rulers in 1989 and Cuba’s and North Korea’s in the early 1990s. Given the continued dominance of old-regime actors, the weakness of democratic forces, and the current international environment, some form of authoritarianism is likely to dominate the Middle East and North Africa for a long time to come.

About the Author

Lucan Way is Distinguished Professor of Democracy at the University of Toronto, co-director of the Petro Jacyk Program for the Study of Ukraine, and co-chair of the Journal of Democracy Editorial Board.

View all work by Lucan A. Way