"many Arab regimes are highly vulnerable to a shock that would stimulate mass dissent. Indeed, even an ostensibly minor rise in open opposition within one Arab country might trigger a revolutionary crusade in others. Just such a domino process occurred in Eastern Europe less than a decade ago.... If the supporters of established political and economic structures include millions who privately desire various reforms, those structures may be very vulnerable, however entrenched they appear to the untrained eye. A shock that impels a few people to vocalize their grievances and demand reforms may catalyze a bandwagon process that resets the terms of acceptalbe public discourse and renders the incumbent regeims unsustainable."
Kuran, who had developed one of the most powerful explanations of those Eastern European revolutions, had some good reasons for thinking that Arab regimes might be particularly brittle and the conditions ripe for radical change. Many of the things which he expected to spark this bandwagon have in fact now happened: the Iraq war toppled Saddam, the post-Hariri Lebanese protests drove out the Syrians, some brave activists began demanding change (Kefaya), Arab satellite TV broadcast it all widely. But Arab regimes look as entrenched as ever.
That has to be something of a puzzle. A lot of people on both sides of today's partisan debates have spent the last few years working with some version of Kuran's thesis. For American neo-conservatives, this was a core part of the logic behind invading Iraq: deposing Saddam would trigger a cascade of popular demands for change which would bring down the decaying and corrupt Arab order. Many Arab activists, especially the Egyptian Kefaya movement, hoped that brave protests (publicized by al-Jazeera and blogs) would break through the wall of fear and inspire the Arab masses to rally to their sides and bring down the decaying and corrupt Arab order.
Well, three years after Saddam's ouster, and a year and a half after the "Arab spring", the decaying and corrupt Arab order is very much still with us. The shock did not produce the expected cascade. Breaking the wall of fear wasn't enough, and the expected "tipping mechanism" has notably failed to tip. Why have Arab regimes proven so much more resilient than Kuran and Kefaya expected?
Why, indeed. Wouldn't that be a great journal article for somebody? Too bad I'm so busy...