Such revolutions were commonly unstable and usually it took multiple revolutions before an enduring democracy was in place. For instance, the French Revolution took place in 1789, but it was not until 1870 that the Republic that remains until this day (aside from the German control in the Second World War) was first established. In fact, all recent and major successful revolutions have been followed by a military dictatorship in under 15 years. The Russian Revolution quickly fell under the spell of Lenin and Stalin; the German Weimar Republic fell to Hitler; the French Revolution fell to Napoleon and even the English Civil War fell under Cromwell’s command (1653). Usually it takes another dictator succeeding a previous revolution to create a stable democracy. This second cycle of democracy is usually less spectacular and innovative as the first, rather a return to the previous revolution.
This begs the question of the modern day world; will today’s revolutions be successful in creating democracy, or will they become a part of the revolutionary cycle? In Libya’s case it seems unlikely in a historical context; it was militarily led, leading to violent and bloody conflicts which could easily lead to a second coup whilst the military is so closely linked to political matters. As shown by the first French Revolution, this is a strong potential outcome. The future of Libya also depends on whether the new constitution is too radical, or rather a return to the previous democracy that ruled before Gaddafi. In Egypt’s case, it seems much more likely that the eventual outcome of its revolution will be a stable democracy. It was a relatively bloodless revolution and despite the fact that the military is heavily involved, the people seemed determined to remove them from power, clearly aware of that danger.
On the other side of the revolutionary cycle is Russia, a country that is still in democracy in name. Vladimir Putin seems ever more likely to regain the presidency for the second time and is becoming increasingly dictatorial. Political dissenters (aside from recent protests) are becoming progressively rare. Russia is entering its 3rd complete centralisation of power, having had two democracies (the first being very brief before the Russian Revolution in 1917). It seems likely that after sometime during which Vladimir Putin is overthrown, a democracy will once again return to stay, unless some other political ideology should come into play.
Since the English Civil War and French Revolution, many countries have been spiralling in and out of democracies, in some the spiral has slowed but perhaps not stopped. Conversely, in the volatile countries of Libya and Egypt, perhaps the spiral is accelerating rather than slowing.
History can help us predict the outcomes of the current Middle-Eastern revolutions, but only time will tell.
Contributed by Alex Boitier