Paul Greenberg
The revolution that overthrew Egypt's last pharaoh and installed a new one in his place now has been overthrown itself -- by military decree. As fully expected. Chaos breeds a demand for order, for clear authority, and what could be more authoritarian than military rule?

This familiar process isn't confined to our own time, or just the Middle East. It may be the natural course of modern revolutions, which still follow the pattern set by the French one, and that make the American Revolution the great exception to a dismal rule -- a revolution that somehow brought liberty and order, thanks to a founding generation unmatched by revolutionaries elsewhere. Washington, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison ... where else do you find their counterparts? And our ever with-it intellectuals say America isn't exceptional. Tell it to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the tempest-tossed to whom the word for hope is still America.

Recommended reading: "Anatomy of Revolution" by Crane Brinton, the classic that charts the progress, or rather regress, of modern revolutions as a series of shock waves that go from left to right till the pendulum reaches its Reign of Terror, then pauses as it reaches the end of its arc (Thermidor) and begins to swing back. At that point, new tyrants succeed the old, and it isn't always easy to tell the difference. Except that the new commissars may be crueler than the old czars, the new generals more beneficent than the old tyrants. It all depends on just where the wheel of history stops this spin.

See the latest news from Cairo, where this year's pharaoh had declared his regime above the rule of law, that relic of Western colonialism. Mohammed Morsi had started doing everything a dictator does except call himself one. He purged the judiciary, doing away with that inconvenience known as the rule of law, and announced that there would be no appealing his decrees in Egypt's increasingly irrelevant courts. The new Egyptian president courtesy of the Muslim Brotherhood decreed that the old one be retried, not yet having exacted the fullest measure of revenge on his predecessor.

Yet the new pharaoh was careful not to order any retrial of lower-level types in his state's security apparatus so he could count on their thuggery when needed. And he began pushing Egypt down the road his counterparts in Turkey have been on for some time -- back to Sharia law, to restrictions on those uppity women, speech codes and all the rest. Back to the era of the Caliphs, a rising middle class and a new internetted society be damned! It didn't work, thankfully. At least for now.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.