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Thu Oct 25, 2012, 08:58 AM

CBC: The Arab Spring vs. the history of democracy in the West

A little patience, please, for the Arab Spring

If there was one thing Barack Obama and Mitt Romney agreed on in their foreign policy debate on Monday it was that the Arab Spring has raised a great deal of hope for the cause of world democracy. Where they differed, though, was that while Obama saw the situation as the glass of democracy filling up, Romney saw it as leaking fast. What both Obama and Romney were trying to deal with was the sense of disappointment within the U.S. electorate and shared throughout much of the West with the rising chaos in some of the new democracies of the Middle East compounded by the murderousness of the civil war in Syria.

The closest thing to an answer may be found not by looking at Russia, Libya or the new Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, but by taking a look back at the history of Western democracies. They didn't exactly grow up overnight.

Take the French Revolution in 1789. With the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy, freedom beckoned. But political squabbling quickly put an end to democracy and it was overtaken by the Reign of Terror in which tens of thousands were executed, usually by having their heads chopped off. Altogether, since the Revolution, the French have had two emperors, three kings and five republics. France is now a great democracy. But getting there was neither quick nor easy.

So, yes, you Arab Spring watchers, democracies do take time to develop. ... They will not have democracy tomorrow. It may take many years. But it won't take centuries as it has in the past. The trumpets of freedom from cyberspace are simply too strong to be stilled.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2012/10/24/f-vp-schlesinger.html

Of course there are big differences from the halting development of democracy in the West over the centuries. Back then sporadic and partial progress in human rights and democratic government were "cutting edge" with little to compare them to.

Also now the world is more connected. We can watch and, at least partially, understand day-to-day developments in other parts of the world. And what happens far away can affect our everyday lives very quickly in ways to an extent that was inconceivable centuries ago.

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