Paul Lachine

The Road to Arab Democracy

What is now happening in the Arab world is without historical precedent: for the first time, Arab authoritarian regimes have been toppled, and others are threatened, by mass demonstrations calling for freedom and democracy. But knocking down an oppressive regime is easier than building and consolidating democracy.

JERUSALEM – During the turmoil of the French Revolution, a popular saying arose: “How beautiful was the republic – under the monarchy.” The Revolution aimed at achieving Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Instead, it wrought for France – and much of Europe – Jacobin terror, right-wing counter-terror, decades of war, and eventually Napoleonic tyranny. A similar challenge now faces North Africa and the Middle East, where most Arab countries are experiencing massive upheavals.

Historically speaking, what is now happening is without precedent in the Arab world. For the first time, Arab authoritarian regimes have been toppled, and others are threatened, by mass demonstrations calling for freedom and democracy. Previously, Arab regimes changed through military coups and other sorts of putsches, never through popular revolutions.

During the great democratic wave of the 1990’s, which brought down dictatorships in Eastern Europe, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia, nothing similar happened in Arab North Africa and the Middle East. Now, however, the region’s political inertia has been disrupted. Cairo’s Tahrir Square has become a symbol for both hope and “people power.”

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