Polyannas would have us believe that having removed their tyrant, the people of Egypt are now on the path to representative government in the form of a parliamentary or Jeffersonian republic. Perhaps they are. But history says that other outcomes are far more likely in the near term, and that real republic is probably unlikely in the far term.
France, for instance, began its bloody revolution in 1789. The turmoil that ensued lasted many decades, depending on how you total it all up. But the first French republic wasn’t even established until 1848, with the election of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte as president. That’s 59 years to the first republic, and France has undergone a series of monarchies, empires and republics since then.
Russia underwent a revolution in 1917 when its monarchy was overthrown. The Bolsheviks were not the majority faction among the revolutionary forces, but they exploited the situation, seized absolute power, and held that power for the next 70 years. Even today, Russia is barely a democracy and is really more an an authoritarian mobocracy with democratic trappings.
Indonesia is often cited as a functioning Islamic democracy, but that is very recent development: 1999 saw its first free elections since 1955. And Islamic radicalism may yet subsume the Indonesian government, as sharia courts and ideas spread. Indonesia’s transformation forward took decades; its transformation backward probably won’t take as long.
Iran, on the other hand, suffered its 1979 revolution, going from secular dictatorship through a slow-motion transition that ended up with radical Islamists in power. That revolution had a radical Islamist figure to rally around — the Ayatollah Khomenei — that Egypt’s revolution thankfully lacks thus far. Whatever he is, so far Mohamed ElBaradei is no Khomenei.
But Egypt’s revolution so far also lacks a Kemal Ataturk, a strong secular figure with the drive to force the nation toward real democracy. Ataturk led Turkey from the days of empire through to a more or less functional independent Islamic democracy, dissolving the caliphate along the way. But as Turkey’s democracy has become more Islamic in recent years, it has become less open and more hostile to the West. Ataturk accomplished many things that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would not only not do, they would undo given the chance: Separating Islamic law from secular law, and dissolving Islamic courts.
Such courts are popping up in nominally secular and Christian Europe. What are the odds that they and other signs of increased Islamization will pop up in Egypt as well, where sharia courts already operate in personal matters?
I realize that I’m skimming past quite a bit of historical detail and nuance, but here’s the point: When it comes to revolutions, America’s has proven to be the exception rather than the rule. Ours is one of the very few to have gone along a relatively straight line and ended well in a short time. Revolutions tend to take a very long time to reach a positive outcome, and a lot of blood tends to be shed along the way. And where is Egypt today? Heading from authoritarianism to…more authoritarianism.