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Revolutionary Patience

As in other parts of the world, Arab countries need time to attain the democracy and pluralism their peoples seek. They will achieve it, but no one should be surprised that, with the possible exception of Tunisia, they have not done so in three years.

MADRID – On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. Within weeks, the popular revolt triggered by Bouazizi’s act had spread far beyond Tunisia, engulfing much of the Arab world.

In Europe, Ukraine and other troubled countries, such as Bosnia, began their long and still incomplete transitions to democracy a quarter-century ago. The Arab world, by contrast, has logged a mere three years of transition – the blink of an eye in historical terms. Still, there have already been significant changes, and the region is advancing – though the destination remains unknown. As in other parts of the world, Arab countries need time to attain the democracy and pluralism their peoples seek. They will achieve their goals – but not in a mere three years.

In fact, events in today’s Middle East continue to be shaped by the radical changes brought about after World War I. Previously, most Arabs had been grouped together under various caliphates. After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, two nation-states (Iran and Turkey) emerged, while the Arabs were distributed among 22 new countries, generally under British or French colonial domination.

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