The recent revolts in Tunisia and Egypt and ongoing unrest in Libya, Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain and other countries in North Africa and Southwest Asia reminded me of a bit of European history that might be worth revisiting.
In 1848 a wave of revolts and protests swept Europe. A continent mostly ruled by autocratic monarchs was wracked by protest. Vast mountains of politcal pamphlets were printed off and countless hours of speeches filled the air. Protests swept from France to the Russian East and throughout the Hapsburg Empire and the Mediterranean countries. When the dust settled and the shouting tailed off, not much had changed on the surface:
- In France, the Revolution of 1848 led to the formation of the Second Republic, which would be overthrown a mere four years later by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte.
- German agitation for a unified state would remain unfulfilled until 1870.
- The Hungarian portion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire made a power play and attempted to separate herself from Austria, but after intervention by Tsar Nicholaas I at the head of a large army and a brutal martial law period, this revolt fizzled out.
- Switzerland had experienced a short civil war in 1847 and in 1848 approved a new constitution turning it into a federal republic, limiting some of the cantonal authority.
- Sicily rose up against the Bourbons, but a year a half later was reconquered.
- Mainland Italy was swept by war and revolt that saw the Vatican and the various European power players that had divided Italy up for their own ends beaten back temporarily, though by 1849, the Roman Republic, along with Sicily, had been reconquered. Italian unification would occur in 1871.
The current pattern of events in the Islamic Autocracies seems to rhyme with the events in Europe of 1848. I'm sure that Mark Galasiewski and the Asia-Pacific Financial Forecast has much more to say about these revolts and he'll have the wave patterns and context to give you more insight into the magnitude of the emotional wave driving events North Africa and Southwest Asia.
The most likely outcome of the string of revolts we are seeing, and any others to come (Saudi Arabia, anyone?), will be the co-opting (at the fringes) of portions of the movement or the crushing the uprising. That said, the memes that we see being nurtured in these revolts - democracy (probably meaning different things in each country), an end to crony capitalism, opposition to oppressive security apparati - could very well come back to haunt or inspire these countries in future eras by defining political debates, sparking organized resistance groups or just propelling otherwise ordinary individuals into political or social prominence. Any concessions made to co-opt the Middle Class or segments of society could also opent he door for further demands. These memes, and some of the young people being beaten, shot at or water-cannoned will be energized by the waves of positive and negative mood that will sweep the region in the years and decades to come.
As a final thought, if you think that failed revolutionary movements have little effect on history, please note that the Communist Manifesto was published in 1848. The Soviet Union was founded in 1922. The wheels of time grind slowly, but they grind fine...