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From all appearances, the interminable reign of President Robert Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabwe has ever known, has come to an end in a bloodless coup.

Even better, the attempt by the aging Mr. Mugabe, 93, to hand the country over to his wife seems to have been foiled.

If this is how this week's events play out – and it's still too early in the ongoing saga to know for sure – there will be reason to hope that Zimbabwe can start to lift itself out of the dark ages that Mr. Mugabe condemned it to during his 37 years of inept and corrupt rule.

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Related:The full story of what brought Mugabe down, and why he didn't see it coming

Following a coup by Zimbabwe's army, Mr. Mugabe is under house arrest with his wife, Grace. The army has also arrested members of the faction that supported the attempt by Grace Mugabe to follow her husband's footsteps into the presidency.

But this is not a coup, the army improbably insists. Its spokespeople say it will step aside when "normalcy" returns – normalcy being defined as the reinstallment of the military's preferred successor to Mr. Mugabe.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, the successor in question, was vice-president until last week, when Mr. Mugabe fired him on specious grounds. The ouster was seen as an attempt to clear the way for Ms. Mugabe's succession in an election in 2018.

It proved to be a bad move. Mr. Mnangagwa is a close friend and ally of the commander-in-chief of Zimbabwe's powerful army, which has always had the last word.

It's a humiliating end for Mr. Mugabe, but few people outside of Zimbabwe will lament the end of his presidency. He has been a cruel and fickle leader who has relied on violence, corruption and fraudulent elections to stay in power.

He has bankrupted and isolated his country, and ruined the economy – to the degree that the country still has an economy to speak of. Much of what passes for business in Zimbabwe these days is informal barter propped up by "bond notes" that lose value more quickly than the treasury can print new ones.

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With luck, this week's events could see Zimbabwe's government focus on the economy instead of on the greed and ambition of one man and his family. It's telling that a military coup, something the international community frowns upon, is in this case seen as the lesser of two evils.

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