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From Libya to Bahrain, Mideast autocracy under fire

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In Tunisia and Egypt, the military and ruling party appear to have bet that by sacrificing their dictators they could negotiate a transition in which their roles and privileges would be largely preserved.

How other states negotiate that quandary will do much to signal whether more revolutions will follow – and what results they will bring. Jones of Rutgers says he's not yet convinced that the current ferment will bring a a real democratic opening.

"It's not that I want to be right, it's just for reasons of historical precedent it's hard to be optimistic," he says. "Even in Egypt, the hard work remains in front of them, and often the people who start revolutions aren't the ones to finish them."

But Bahrain's Sunni monarchy looks particularly vulnerable in the face of an increasingly restless Shiite majority.

The tiny island nation, located in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran, is home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet and critical to broader regional operations – including deterrence of Iranian aggression.

The ruling Khalifa family, which has held absolute power for two centuries and enjoys close ties with the US, could find themselves in an existential fight.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has been in power since 2002; the king's powerful uncle, Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, has held his unelected post since the nation won independence in 1971.

Unlike Egypt's largely leaderless opposition, in Bahrain the Shiite opposition movement Al-Wafaq is well-organized. It has in recent years been willing to work for change from within the system – since the November elections, it has held nearly half of the seats in the lower house of parliament. But last week it suspended its participation in the largely symbolic parliament after security forces killed protesters.

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