Is it too early to pose this question? The answer is no.

This is not the first time political analysts, social scientists and foreign policy intelligence units failed to see a revolution coming. It happened again not so long ago, namely in 1989 when the Iron Curtain came down. Then, like today, we assumed that even though the systems in question were beginning to show cracks, they were still going strong; and we had little appreciation of the levels of civilian discontent and of civil society organization.

In retrospection, it is easy to turn back and see all the signs. (For some reason, the signs are always clearer to see in hindsight than in foresight). These included: the dynamics of demographic change; the large share of young people under thirty with educational and/or work experience abroad; the diffusion of internet-based social networking tools facilitating trans-national interaction as well as political mobilization; the excessive and ever-growing corruption of the regimes heading these countries; the ever-widening social and economic cleavages; and the lack of investments in infrastructure and social welfare.

By far our biggest failure was that we accepted as social fact the ‘Al-Qaida vs. Bush’ narrative regarding the Arab world: namely, that democracy was either not possible (as it did not fit the culture, history and customs) or only so by force (as in Iraq). It was this that made us blind (or, worse, acquiescent) to the inhuman autocracy of many Arab regimes and which led us to believe in their power. Similar misconceptions characterize our reading of China and Russia.