On the stability of governments

People fortunate enough to live in Anglo-Saxon regimes may be forgiven for assuming that governments are likely to be stable. The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have good records, but the blessings were generally not passed on to other places they governed. Except for Israel and India, none of the countries let go after World War II by Britain or the United States can claim stable and reliable governments.
Reports from Syria are that the after-Mosque demonstrations on Friday produced the highest number of killings since they began three months ago. Later reports usually are that participants exaggerated the carnage, but cell phone videos continue to be unpleasant.
After the killings come the funerals. One does not have to be a great prophet to expect another round of violence as crowds carry the bodies through the streets.
In Yemen there was shelling of the compound where the president was seeking shelter along with subordinates and loyal troops. Reports are that the president suffered injuries, while people close to him did worse.
The Europeans attacking the forces of Muammar Gaddafi are escalating their firepower, while saying they are trying to minimize collateral damage. However, they may be no nearer to resolving whatever is happening there.
Crowds in Cairo are unhappy with the continuing interim. Some are shouting for Mubarak''s head, and some for further change in the people claiming temporary authority. Planes and ships have not returned with the tourists that are the major input to the country''s economy, so things may get worse before they get better.
What we are seeing is the problem of dictatorships without an institutionalized way of transferring power.
They live by the sword and die by the sword.
Mubarak was not among the bloodiest, but he may end badly. He planned to make his son the successor, but that was not well received by other power holders. Unrest spread quickly from Tunisia. Neither Mubarak nor his family felt a need to flee toward the places where they had stored the family fortune. Now they are in the hands of others, and facing a trial not likely to be conducted by rules that prevail in law-abiding countries.
Experts are speculating about the number of weeks, months, or days until something similar happens to Bashar al-Assad and his lovely wife.
Assad''s father seized power in a coup, and it would be wise to bet against the family dynasty going beyond its second generation.
That was also the time frame enjoyed by the regime of the late Shah of Iran, whose father established what was called a dynasty. The son of the Shah, and grandson of the dynasty''s founder, is a writer about Iran rather than a player in its politics. His younger brother committed suicide earlier this year.
Some regimes appear likely to endure forever, and then collapse. Not too long after the time memorialized by Fiddler on the Roof ("May God bless and keep the Czar far away from us") there came the revolution, or perhaps two revolutions before a Communist regime lasted for 70 years. Things have stabilized somewhat in Russia since the 1990s, but personal security and the rule of law are not assured. Elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, conditions are no better.
Disorderly change breeds disorderly change. France is a place of high art, culture, and cuisine in the midst of European civilization, but has had two Empires and five Republics since 1789. The Fifth Republic has lasted more than twice as long as the Fourth, but has yet to achieve the 70 years of the Third.
Latin America has its ups and downs. Argentina, Barzil, and Chile are better than in the past, but their most recent bad times were not so long ago. Most Central America republics are not credible. Among the large countries, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela are not as good as they were.
Greece and Portugal may require a good deal of foreign aid to keep them on the straight and narrow.
Stability along with democracy and the rule of law are not traits that are often achieved in a short period of time.
Admirable exceptions include Germany and Japan, stable and orderly since World War II. Israel shows no signs of crumbling after 63 difficult years. Post-war Italian politics have been noisome, but without a major change in regime. Spain''s economy is rocky, but its politics remain decent. China''s stability and economic growth are remarkable in light of its history. The country''s power assures tolerance in the rest of the world for shortcomings as defined by Western European and North American standards.
All this is another way of saying that it is too early to begin the applause for what optimists are calling "Arab Spring." Islam, I argue, is the great hurdle on the road to something other than autocracy. Say what you will about equal opportunity and providing a decent chance for the advocates of change. The liberal voices associated with Islam are more unusual than typical.
Is this the time for Israelis to be generous with respect to concessions, in the hope that Palestinians and other neighbors will make those gestures worth while?
Only if you are hopeful in the extreme, or live far enough away to feel safe from the consequences.