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Is It Really a Revolution?

Posted on the 19 March 2011 by Warigia @WarigiaBowman
In a recent email conversation with me, noted democracy scholar and Harvard professor Steven Levitsky made the following very relevant observation. 
"What we have so far in Egypt is the breakdown of an authoritarian regime, leading to some sort of regime transition.  We obviously do not know what will emerge.  In the best of cases . . . . . the outcome will be democratization (a democratic transition).  Alternatively, we may see some sort of hybrid or authoritarian regime emerge--almost certainly more liberalized than the previous regime, but nonetheless not fully democratic."
In other words, we are in a transition phase in Egypt. Currently we are emerging from a highly authoritarian and autocratic regime. The question is what regime will be next. Unfortunately, we really need to be clear that at the current moment, that is to say, at 4:36 p.m. on March 18, 2011, Egypt is being ruled by a military dictatorship. Today's vote is a very important step in the right direction, but the country is far from democracy at the present moment, and no regime transition has actually occurred. 

That being said, it is impressive that the first free vote is taking place in Egypt, so a democratic transition is definitely possible. In addition, there has been a real paradigm shift in Egyptian thinking. The Egyptian people are feeling empowered, and are finally demanding a responsive government.  In addition, Egyptians are discussing ideas freely for the first time. So, there has been a dramatic change in the national sensibility. This change of attitude, according to my colleague Mark Mikhail, may in and of itself be "revolutionary" 
If you wish to read more about revolution, I recommend the following documents. I will try to add to this list as time permits.
Theda Skocpol, States and Social Revolutions (London: Cambridge, 1979)
Clifton B. Kroeber, "Theory and History of Revolution," Journal of World History, Vol.7, No.1, 1996.

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