Sunday, January 30, 2011

People's Revolution: Why Iran failed and Why Egypt is Succeeding

Hearing dramatic events happening in Egypt, I couldn’t help but wonder why certain “people revolutions” go further than others. I was reminded of a similar revolution in Iran recently which even though seemed to be gaining momentum by the day quickly fell apart. However, protests in Egypt seem to be taking a different turn and Husni Mubarak’s position seems to be increasingly marginalized.

To come to streets despite the threat of being shot down by government-backed armed personnel takes a lot of courage... a lot. But let’s not kid ourselves. A bullet is a bullet. Initially, when people turn to streets, local law enforcement is used to contain the crowd. Now, it is reasonable to assume that the local law enforcement has strong ties with the community they operate in and as such turning guns on them is not a choice many would like to make. As such, almost in all cases military is eventually called to contain the situation – army has no local ties and all armies are trained to strictly follow orders of their superiors (As a side note, I’ve heard that in Uttar Pradesh (a State in India), if protesters belong to largely one religion (Hindus or Muslims), the policemen sent to contain them are chosen from the other religion). This is where a make or break can occur for any people’s revolution and it resides mostly on a single person – Chief of Army. If the Army Chief chooses to side with the public, then the dictator can for all practical purposes pack the bags.

A couple of years back in Iran, where protestors lay siege of Tehran disputing the election results in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won, army chose to side with the government. The threat of the bullet in that case becomes very real and sure enough the protest quickly got dismantled. Similar situation unfolded in Myanmar in 2007 when army quelled the protest by Buddhist monks (Myanmar is ruled by the army). China’s Tiananmen Square revolution was similarly silenced two decades back.

However, a different situation emerged in Thailand few years back when protestors took siege of Bangkok International Airport against the policies of ruling government. The protest apparently had the blessings of the King of Thailand, most revered person in Thailand. As such, the army didn’t use a heavy hand in stopping the protest and eventually the Prime Minister of Thailand had to resign. I am seeing a similar situation unfold in Egypt where army seems to be taking more of an observer role rather than dealing with protestors heavily. So ultimately it boils to down one person or a group of individuals who control the army. If the generals decide that Mubarak is more of a liability then Mubarak is gone. I am sure Mubarak is anxiously waiting to know.

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