The Revolution Paradox – RantAWeek

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The Revolution Paradox

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Posted by Tyler Miksanek on June 9, 2012 at 6:47 pm

The Computer Age has revolutionized modern life, but it has also revolutionized the act of a revolution itself.  Take a look at the chart below, and discover the changing nature of revolutions.


Revolution              Year                Notable Leader

American                    1775                 George Washington

Russian                       1917                 Vladimir Lenin

Cuban                          1953                 Fidel Castro

Arab Spring               2010                 Facebook???


All four revolutions follow the same basic beginnings: a group of people who feel wronged rise up against the government that is oppressing them.  However, the Computer Age has ushered in the leaderless revolution.

Think about it.  In the first three revolutions above, the group of oppressed people had a leader to rally around.  When the revolution was over, that leader took control.  Whether the revolution involved a transitional period (American Revolution), a coup (Russian) or a prolonged insurgency (Cuban), the end result was basically the same.

The Arab Spring Revolutions, engineered largely through social media, often did not have the luxury of a leader ready to take power.  This has handicapped the revolutions, as the lack of a leader who already has gained widespread popularity hampers both the formation and the function of post-revolutionary governments.

The prime example is Yemen.  Protesters were able to force President Ali Abdullah Saleh out of power, but the revolution failed to create a new leadership figure.  Ultimately, Saleh’s vice-president took control of the country, a less successful end result than many of the protesters hoped for.  What could be considered a coup (it was a shake up of power amongst the elite) was far less successful in Yemen than Lenin’s coup in Russia.

Another good example is Egypt.  A successful revolution deposed President Hosni Mubarak, but the wake of the revolution left no leader ready to take control.  This forced a transitional period led by the military.

At first glance, Egypt’s transitional period can be compared to the transitional period the American Revolution faced after its completion.  However, under closer inspection, this comparison fails.  After the Americans noticed the failings of their Articles of Confederation, they were able to create a stronger central government with Washington as a ready executive.  The Egyptian transitional period did not have an experimental governance system like the Articles and was instead overseen by the military.  Sure, the transitional period is coming to an end, but the military still seems dominant.  Additionally, new President Mohammed Morsi may have narrowly won an election, but he lacks the near-universal popularity Washington had upon starting his administration.  The competitiveness of the first round of the presidential election proved that no one candidate stood out with the Egyptian people.  Washington, on the other hand, was elected unanimously.

Tunisia stands as an interesting example because its revolution was by far the most successful of the Arab Spring Revolutions to date.  President Ben Ali was deposed after protests, but a new leader in Moncef Marzouki was quickly elected.  The success of Tunisia’s revolution lies with the previous roles of Marzouki himself.  Before the revolution, Marzouki was a political dissident and outspoken critic of Ben Ali, making him a sensible leader to take over after Ben Ali’s ousting.  More than any of the other Arab Spring Revolutions, Tunisia follows the example of historical revolutions.

Perhaps the most important lesson can be found in Syria.  Not following the classical example of a revolution like Tunisia, Syria’s revolution still lacks a leader and sufficient organization.

The Syrian revolution, as a sort of insurgency, could be compared to its Arab Spring counterpart in Libya or to Castro’s Cuban Revolution.  But unlike the Libyan rebels, who were able to organize under a transitional council, the Syrian rebels are still mostly unorganized.  The organized Libyan opposition was created because the rebels had a stronghold in the important city of Benghazi.  Lacking a major stronghold, organization is a more difficult task for the rebels in Syria.  And unlike with Castro in Cuba, there is no dominating figure in the revolution.  Apparently, organization is far from guaranteed in the modern age of revolutions.

Technology, as seen in many of the countries affected by the Arab Spring, is changing the very nature of revolutions.  By examining the changing courses of revolutions, we can better predict their outcomes.  After all, the world is constantly changing, and it makes sense that revolutions should change with it.

UPDATED: JULY 31, 2012

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1 Comment

  • On June 10, 2012 at 4:02 pm Julia said



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