Airline pilots coming in to land at Belfast airport used to advise their passengers to reset their watches to local time--1688. There is developing in the blogosphere a debate over what year it is in the Middle East--1989 or 1848. Like the foreign policy debate between Democrats and Republicans during the second half of the Cold War, where every foreign crisis was reduced to being either another Vietnam or another Munich depending on which party you belonged to, we are given a choice between only two revolutionary years: the Springtime of Nations of the failed revolutions of 1848 and the "10 revolutions" (10 years in Poland, 10 months in Hungary, 10 weeks in Czechoslovakia, 10 days in Germany, 10 hours in Romania) of Eastern Europe in 1989. Eliminated from consideration are other important revolutionary periods of mass turmoil such as 1830-32, 1916-23, and 1968.
In all of the above periods there were revolutions, revolts, risings, etc. that took place in several countries within a short amount of time where preceding events influenced following ones. In 1848 the revolts took place from Paris in the West to Budapest and Krakow in the East. The net result was frustrated rebels and wary reactionary conservatives with conservative nationalists winning out in the long run. The biggest effect was to help put Napoleon III on the throne in Paris. In 1830-32 there were far fewer revolts--mostly in Belgium and Spain, but Belgium did win its independence.
Over a seven-year period from 1916-23 there were revolts and revolutions in Arabia, Ireland, throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and in Munich, Berlin, and Thuringia and Saxony in Germany as well as in Italy. The Arabs with British assistance managed to expel the Turks from the Arab lands of the East, but these then became British and French mandates under the League of Nations. In Ireland the Easter Rising in Dublin in April 1916 failed miserably but the Irish won commonwealth status after a two-year guerrilla campaign from 1919 to 1921. There was a liberal revolution in St. Petersburg in March 1917 that led to a Bolshevik seizure of power in November. As World War I was coming to an end numerous national revolts took place in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which greatly influenced the peacemakers at Versailles the following spring. In Germany all the revolutions of that period failed, but helped to keep the Weimar Republic unstable. But in October 1922 a newspaper editor and war veteran organized a "march on Rome" that led to the Fascists taking power. This latter development had repercussions throughout Central Europe during the interwar period.
In 1968 unrest rocked the West from Chicago to Poland, with major influences in Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, and Northern Ireland. In the United States this climaxed the period of great change from 1964 to 1974 known as "the Sixties." But most of these changes were really cultural rather than political. The major lasting changes were experienced by American blacks who gained genuine voting rights in the South. Elsewhere in Western Europe the changes were mostly cultural--as in America no regimes fell as a result of the 1968 violence, unless one counts the Stormont government in Northern Ireland in March 1972. In Poland a threatened workers strike and Communist Party purge helped to build up the resentment that culminated in the Solidarity trade union movement in 1980-81 and ultimately in freedom in 1989. And "The Troubles" that engulfed Northern Ireland in October 1968 continued at least until the end of the century as paramilitary violence was unleashed on both sides of the ethnic divide.
The trait that all of these periods have in common was that although political turmoil had a chain-reaction effect it was local circumstances and grievances that determined the ultimate fate of the events in each country. It was the local balance-of-power between the forces of the status quo and those of change that determined the outcome. In some cases--as in Northern Ireland (1968-2007)--it may take decades to see the actual outcome of events. We should keep that in mind as spectators when viewing events in the Arab world today. What started a month ago in Tunis may take decades to play out.