In the last few weeks thousands, possibly millions, of demonstrators on the streets of Cairo and Tunis have called for the ouster of aging, authoritarian leaders, just as crowds gathered a few years ago in Tbilisi, Bishkek and Kyiv. While some similarities between the events in Egypt and Tunisia this year and the Color Revolutions of 2003-2005 are evident, there are key differences as well.
Perhaps the most significant difference between 2011 in Egypt and Tunisia and the Color Revolutions in the former Soviet Union is that the Egyptian and Tunisian leaderships, headed by Hosni Mubarak and Zine el Abidine Ben Ali respectively, were far more authoritarian and brutal than their counterparts in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine. The Color Revolutions occurred in more semi-democratic contexts, in which the regimes led by Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia, Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan and Leonid Kuchma in Ukraine allowed for more media and political freedom, and were generally less repressive, than authorities in Egypt or Tunisia.
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Lincoln Mitchell is an Associate Research Scholar at Columbia University's Harriman Institute. He is a frequent commenter on political development in the former Soviet Union and is currently writing a book on the Color Revolutions.