The 2011 Bastille Day military parade down the Champs Elysees in Paris promises the same spectacle as previous years. President Nicolas Sarkozy again takes the salute, possibly in the company of a circumspect selection of guests. The day commemorates the 1789 storming of the notorious Bastille Prison, the start of the French Revolution. France's protracted and violent journey to democracy offers a lesson for today's Middle East revolutionaries -- an ouster is no quick fix for tyranny.
Concern about what happens next is already a topic of discussion in, and about, the affected countries. The French Revolution led to a reign of terror and the eventual restoration of the monarchy before beginning the long chaotic climb to representative government. Other revolutions point to the unpredictability of revolution. The 1917 Russian Revolution led to one form of despotism being supplanted by another. And arguably, repression increased after the 1979 Iranian revolution. In 2010 Sarkozy was castigated for not being more selective in his invitations to the leaders of former French colonies, celebrating 50 years of independence from France, to attend the parade with him. The International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), an umbrella group for human rights organizations around the world, wrote to the president to complain that certain countries' delegations could include people responsible for grave human rights violations. Troops from the African guests marched in the parade. One human rights group has said that some of the troops and leaders should instead be facing trial for war crimes. The parade passes down the Champs-Elysées from l'Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde where the French president, his government, guests and foreign ambassadors stand. With few exceptions, It has taken place every year since 1880 with few exceptions. The spectacle includes French air force jets releasing trails of red, white and blue smoke to represent the colors of France, and parachutists floating down on to the Place des Invalides. Many cities hold fireworks during the evening of Bastille Day.
Date written/update: 2011-07-14