Shortly after Tunisia’s Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak were removed from office by popular uprisings, I wrote a column on TIME.com arguing that Saddam would not have been forced out by peaceful protests. Iraqi youth activists, had such a species even existed, would have struggled to organize Tahrir Square–type mass demonstrations because they would have lacked the tools of their Tunisian and Egyptian peers: Saddam forbade satellite dishes, and economic sanctions–in place since his troops were kicked out of Kuwait in 1991–meant Iraqis could have neither personal computers nor cell phones. That meant no Facebook, no Twitter, not even text messages. And no al-Jazeera to spread the word from Baghdad to other cities.
Unlike Ben Ali and Mubarak, Saddam would have had no compunction ordering a general slaughter of revolutionaries; and unlike the Tunisian and Egyptian military brass, the Iraqi generals would swiftly have complied. They had already demonstrated this by killing tens of thousands of Shi’ites who rose against the dictator after his Kuwaiti misadventure.
Saddam’s Iraq had less in common with Tunisia and Egypt than, ironically, with its sworn enemy to the east: Iran. There, the people-powered Green Revolution of 2009, which foreshadowed the Arab Spring, failed because Tehran was able to deploy, to deadly effect, the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia, two armed groups that swear absolute loyalty to the regime. Their Iraqi equivalents, the Republican Guard and the Fedayeen Saddam, would have done the same for Saddam.