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The West and Middle East Dictators
An Algerian protester waves a flag during an anti-government demonstration to demand an overhaul of the political system after long-serving president Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned. (picture alliance/Getty Images)
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The West and Middle East Dictators

Walter Russell Mead

Another spring, another set of political crises in the Arab world. This time autocratic rulers, long past their “sell by” dates, have fallen in Algeria and Sudan. In both countries, factionalized ruling elites, insulated for decades from political pressures other than backstairs intrigue, now scramble to satisfy angry throngs of protesters without any idea how this can be done.

We can recite the mantras of development theory and democracy promotion: Economic reform and political opening are what the region needs. Such platitudes are as useless as they are true. An inexorable buildup of economic and social pressure, like an upwelling of molten rock from beneath the Earth’s crust, threatens to engulf the dysfunctional postcolonial social orders in states from Pakistan to North Africa, and nobody, in the region or in the West, has the slightest idea what to do about it.

Read the full article in the Wall Street Journal here

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