By Nir Boms & Elliot Chodoff
The demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt caught most of us by surprise. Revolutions often do. Sir Anthony Parsons, the British ambassador in Tehran, declared in 1978 that “there has been little or no evidence of unrest among the urban poor.” Shortly after, Iranians poured into the streets and deposed the Shah.
A decade later, the U.S. was shocked by the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, another revolution from within. In October 2000, several hundred thousand people protested against Slobodan Milosevic, who was arrested by Serbian police six months later and eventually prosecuted for war crimes. In 2003, Georgian president Eduard Shevardnadze attempted to steal an election, and the people prevented him from opening a new session of parliament in what came to be known as the Rose Revolution. The Ukrainian Orange Revolution followed a year later, with half a million people marching to protest election fraud, corruption, and repression.
But not all marches end successfully. In 1989, the People’s Republic of China had little tolerance for the 100,000 demonstrators gathered in Tiananmen Square following the funeral of Hu Yaobang, a popular Communist leader who believed in political and economic reforms. Lebanon is still held hostage despite its million-man freedom march in 2005. Iran has learned its lesson: Repeated attempts at revolution — including that of the students in 1999 and the Green Movement of 2009 — have been crushed with high casualties. In Egypt, Syria, Libya, and even Morocco, popular protests have been quickly crushed.
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