"Middle East Transitions Are More Like Sub-Saharan Africa."
Worth considering. Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 is not the only historical analogy political observers are proffering. Some are citing Iran in 1979; others Europe in 1848. A more telling analogy has not been receiving sufficient attention -- the wave of authoritarian collapse and democratic transition that swept through sub-Saharan Africa in the early 1990s. After more than two decades of stultifying strongman rule in sub-Saharan Africa following decolonization, broad-based but loosely organized popular protests spread across the continent, demanding economic and political reforms. Some autocrats, such as Mathieu Kerekou in Benin, fell relatively quickly. Others, like Daniel arap Moi in Kenya, hung on, promising political liberalization and then reconsolidating their positions. Western governments that had long indulged African dictators suddenly found religion on democracy there, threatening to withhold aid from countries whose leaders refused to hold elections. The number of electoral democracies grew rapidly from just three in 1989 to 18 in 1995, and a continent that most political analysts had assumed would indefinitely be autocratic was replete with democratic experiments by the end of the decade.
Of course, like all such analogies, the comparison to today's Middle East is far from exact. The oil-rich Arab states are much wealthier than any African states were in 1990. The significant presence of monarchical systems in the Arab world has no equivalent in sub-Saharan Africa -- as much as delusional "kings" like Swaziland's Mswati III would have it otherwise. The sociopolitical role of Islam in Arab societies is quite different from the role of Islam or other religions in many sub-Saharan African countries. Yet enough political and economic similarities exist to give the analogy as much or more utility than those of Central and Eastern Europe in 1989, Europe in the mid-19th century, and Iran facing Ayatollah Khomeini and his followers. It would behoove policymakers to quickly study up on the sub-Saharan African experience to understand how and why the different outcomes evident on the subcontinent -- shaky democratic success in some cases (Ghana and Benin), authoritarian reconsolidation in others (Cameroon and Togo), and civil war in still others (Democratic Republic of the Congo) -- took place.