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What Italy's history suggests for US policy in Middle East

March 17 isn't just St. Patrick's Day. This year, it's the 150th anniversary of Italy as a modern state. Those who don’t believe that Egypt or others in the region can become prosperous democracies should consider the Italy's history – and what it suggests for US policy in the Middle East now.

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March 17 isn’t just St. Patrick’s Day. This year, it’s the 150th anniversary of Italy as a modern state. Not many Americans will be paying attention. But we should.

Those who don’t believe that Egypt, or other countries in the Middle East, can become a prosperous democracy need to take a deep breath – and consider the history of Italy.

Until the mid-19th century, Italy was not a nation-state. Italians were split between Austria, the Bourbon Kingdom of Naples, the Vatican, and city-states. While Egypt didn’t emerge as an independent nation until 1954, Italy was more fortunate: It unified 150 years ago this week.

People-powered democratic revolts - do they last?

But Italian democracy of the late 19th century wasn’t pretty. There were no Thomas Jeffersons or George Washingtons, America’s romanticized founding fathers, in Rome or Naples then, as they are not in Cairo or Alexandria today. But political pluralism was. Religious zealots, socialists, big business, monarchists, militarists, farmers, and intellectuals were all there, just as they are in Egypt today.

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