A new word is needed to describe these events of recent months. They should be called ‘refolutions’, radical refusals of the old choice between reform and revolution - remarkably sensitive to the grave dangers and high costs of using violent means to get their way.
Great revolutionary convulsions typically trigger long-lasting reflections on their causes and consequences. The European tradition of political thinking harbours many well-known examples, including Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), Harold Laski’s Reflections on the Revolution of Our Times (1943) and Ralf Dahrendorf’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe (1990). There are not yet any comparable published reflections on the volcanic events that have suddenly rocked the Arab-speaking world during the past six months. There ought to be. Still in their infancy, the upheavals have shaken practically every political regime within a swathe of territory stretching from Morocco through Egypt and the Gulf states to the Levant and beyond, to Iraq and Iran. The lives of millions of people within this region are changing; often for the first time, women and men have jumped, danced, kissed strangers, and sung in the streets. There is talk of dignity and justice, freedom and democracy. Dictators and ruling groups are in a pickle; they are on the run or in custody, suffering nervous breakdowns or fighting back like maniacs, using terrible weapons.