Egypt and East Asia: drawing lessons from each other

By Amitav Acharya

Many people wonder if the crisis in Egypt, leading to Hosni Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, might spur similar popular upheaval for regime change in Asia. Asia has no shortage of potential candidates, including the biggest of them all: China. Then there are also Vietnam, Burma and North Korea.

In East Asia, one finds many recent assertions of ‘people’s power’ that one saw in the streets of Cairo: the Philippines in 1986 and 2001 when surging crowds ousted presidents Marcos and Estrada respectively, and Thailand in 2008, when protests ended the remnant of the Thaksin Shinawatra regime. But the situation in Asia is quite different. Asia has already seen more transitions to democracy than the Middle East. Although many Asian countries are not paragons of liberal democracy, outright dictatorships in the region have fallen in number relative to the past and to democratic or semi-democratic governments.

At 30 years, the Mubarak regime held power far longer than any regime in Asia under the same leader. The leader’s persona matters, as change of the top leader may mitigate popular anger even if the regime remains in place. China and Vietnam have replaced their top leadership before they became lightning rods for popular anger. Read more of this post

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