Early Takes on Egypt’s Revolution

BY Michael D. Mosettig  February 15, 2011 at 10:37 AM EDT

It used to take decades for academics to sort out revolutions. For instance, Crane Brinton’s still-revered (if not always correctly read) “Anatomy of a Revolution” was first published 20 years after the Russian Revolution and centuries after the French and English ones. Now academics blog on revolutions as they are taking place.

The latest example: two professors who have been guests on the NewsHour, Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and Jeffrey Winters of Northwestern University, have put their thoughts on to two popular websites.

Writing for Politico, Telhami finds a most encouraging possible result from the events in Tahrir Square: that they could prove to be Osama bin Laden’s worst nightmare. But he tempers it with a warning.

Al-Qaida’s call for a violent, militant revolution found resonance in countries where changing the old order appeared hopeless to the population.

“Enter the Tunisian people and now the Egyptian people,” Telhami writes. “If they succeed, Al Qaeda may remain a force, but its public appeal will ring hollow. If they fail, the energy, the mobilization, the taste of pride and empowerment will not go away — but could be channeled somewhere else. These forces could turn into Egypt’s and the world’s nightmare.”

Winters, an Asia expert, cites examples from the Philippine and Indonesian revolutions. The major problem, he writes on Huffington Post, is that the two countries have achieved democracy and free elections. What they have not accomplished is ridding their societies of the corrupt forces –in the military and their corporate allies — that were the cause of the revolutions in the first place.

“It is in the weeks and months after a regime falls that the status quo oligarchs and elites can exert formidable power. They do not rely on mobilization, organizing, social cohesion, and tremendous personal sacrifices. They have money, office, positions, and they run the economy and state machinery.”

Two things are required, Winters adds. Legal action, trials, punishment of the criminal elites and oligarchs. And organized grass roots programs that can bring about both democracy and the rule of law.

The Egyptian revolution had some of its roots in the blogosphere. And whatever happens in the streets, it will carry on there, at least.