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Charting Transitions in the Middle East: Lessons Learned from Tunisia and Egypt

As I write, revolutionary fever in the Middle East and North Africa has deposed presidents in the Arab republics of Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Of these states Tunisia and Egypt shared similar revolutionary trajectories, where several weeks of sustained mass street protests forced dictators from office without significant violence or direct external intervention. Since these euphoric moments, Tunisia and Egypt have progressed along very different paths. While both countries have held competitive democratic elections—the conventional benchmark of liberal democratic legitimacy—their choices on key transitional questions have diverged with substantial consequences.

Charting Transitions in the Middle East Lessons Learned from Tunisia
Girls carrying the flags of Qatar, Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya during Libya’s first festival of Amazigh songs in Benghazi.

As I write, revolutionary fever in the Middle East and North Africa has deposed presidents in the Arab republics of Yemen, Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Of these states Tunisia and Egypt shared similar revolutionary trajectories, where several weeks of sustained mass street protests forced dictators from office without significant violence or direct external intervention. Since these euphoric moments, Tunisia and Egypt have progressed along very different paths. While both countries have held competitive democratic elections—the conventional benchmark of liberal democratic legitimacy—their choices on key transitional questions have diverged with substantial consequences.

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