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The Arab Spring, as the rapid-fire events that began in Tunisia, spread to Egypt and have since engulfed Libya and much of the Middle East have come to be known, is a phenomenon of historic importance. Comparisons have been made, not unfairly, with 1989, the year of the fall of the Berlin Wall and of revolutions in eastern Europe, and with 1848, a year which saw revolutions sweep through much of continental Europe. It is far too early to tell where the process will lead, and whether some lasting form of representative democracy will take hold in the region. What is certain is that 2011 marks a turning point, and that there will be no easy going back to the old-style authoritarian regimes that had dominated the Arab world through modern times. Some like Tunisia or Egypt may have begun a serious transition; others like Morocco may slowly shift from an executive monarchy to a constitutional one, where parliament and political parties acquire greater power than before; and still others like Syria, Bahrain or Saudi Arabia may be the last to see major institutional change.

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