History on the side of democracy_Stephens_Jan 20 2011

Five years ago mr bush promised a democratic

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Five years ago Mr Bush promised a democratic transformation in the Middle East. The ambition of his second inaugural address was abandoned almost as it was spoken. Offering a voice to the Arab street, it was soon agreed, risked empowering extremists such as Hamas. Better to slip back into the comfortable cold war posture of cuddling up to friendly tyrants. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak could sleep easily again. There was always, though, a snag. People quite like democracy. Rising nations may decry US imperialism and European meddling and resent the west’s innate sense of its own superiority. But freedom, the rule of law and human dignity have an appeal well beyond the west. That is what we have seen in Tunisia. The uprising that put an end to the 23-year rule of Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali exposed what western governments always knew, but preferred to forget. Even the most seemingly secure autocrats are vulnerable to popular discontent. Almost until the moment Mr Ben Ali was forced to flee Tunis , the rich democracies took the side of “stability” against the street . France, the former colonial power, showed particular cynicism. But almost everyone turned a blind eye as long as the regime was “pro-western”. It is impossible to predict the effects elsewhere in the Middle East. Some see the overthrow of Mr Ben Ali as the spark to a slow-burning fuse comparable with the birth of Poland’s Solidarity movement in the shipyards of Gdansk in 1980.
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