February 3rd, 2012
12:07 AM ET

Zakaria: Democracy takes time

Editor's Note: Make sure to tune in Sunday at 10a.m. or 1p.m. EST for Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN.

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Dozens of Egyptians were killed in a soccer stadium brawl this past week. This was the deadliest outbreak of violence since Hosni Mubarak was ousted one year ago. The violence didn't stop at the stadium and it begs the question: What has Egypt gained since its revolution? Take a step back and ask: What has the Arab Spring achieved in the last year? Has people power failed the people? What in the world is going on?

In Egypt, the military might be more entrenched than before. Meanwhile a quarter of the seats in parliament have gone to a group of ultra conservative Islamists. Only 2% have gone to women. Or consider Libya. It's veering towards anarchy. The local militias that helped topple Moammar Gadhafi have reneged on a pledge to give up their arms.

Look at Tunisia. You'll remember that a fruit vendor there sparked the Arab Spring by setting himself on fire. Well, now there are reports of many more such incidents of self-immolation. From Tunisia, to Egypt, to Libya, democracy has unleashed turmoil and long-suppressed expressions of Islamic fundamentalism.Perhaps, some will say, the Arab world didn't fully understand what it was getting into. Perhaps, others will argue, after years of living under tyranny, Arabs just don't know how to rule themselves.

I say, let's look at some history. Democracy has never been easy. Consider what so many democratic revolutions looked like - a year or two after they started. Take America: After the revolutionary war, the country was in economic, political, and social turmoil. By 1779, inflation was at close to 400%. Per-capita income had halved between 1774 and 1790. Remember the armed Shays' Rebellion of 1786? It was seen by many as evidence that people power would go awry and upend the union.

Or consider France. After the onset of the French Revolution things got really bad. The symbol of the revolution became not libertéégalité, fraternité but the guillotine.

Or look at India, the world's largest democracy. It welcomed freedom in 1947 after centuries of foreign rule. And yet the ensuing months brought with it mass riots over Partition, the deaths of millions of Hindus and Muslims. Five months after freedom, the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated. In Indonesia, in the 1990s, a year after Suharto fell, a hapless man, BJ Habibie became president amidst economic collapse and rising Islamic radicalism. His presidency lasted exactly 17 months.

Now we remember the Eastern European revolutions of 1989. But those are really the exceptions that prove a much more messy rule. The process of becoming democratic has always been chaotic. Mistakes are made. Lives are lost. And in the most dire moments, people have always doubted that there would be a good outcome. We need to keep that in mind when we assess the Arab Spring.

Democracy might be messy. It's certainly complicated. It takes a while to consolidate. But for the first time in perhaps a millennium, the Arab people are taking charge of their own affairs. So let's cut them some slack. It's only been a year.

Make sure to tune in Sunday at 10a.m. or 1p.m. EST for GPS on CNN. For more of my thoughts throughout the week, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter and to visit the Global Public Square every day. Also, for more 'What in the World' pieces, click here.

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Topics: Egypt • Elections • Middle East • Protests • What in the World?

soundoff (507 Responses)
  1. Marcus Lumall

    According Plato, "democracy" or the impression of such is just a stage in a circle. The US' democracy is changing and people call a two-party dictatorship. There's really no difference between the political parties in important issues. The US has become into an oligarchy; just see who rules the US: the wealthiest and powerful; the big oil corporations, the huge contractors and others whose stakeholders are wealthy politicians. As the show goes, the middle class is dissapearing... 1% vs 99%. Think about it. do you really want that form of democracy?
    As per democracy in Egypt: in the first place, democracy is an utopic state; the most empowered will always chose the president and they will crash the others. Under stable conditions one could reach something favourable, but our conditions and the Israel issue, forget about democracy or anything that resembles it in the short and middle term; religion and the quantification of natural resources (which is ridiculous and unrealistic) complicate everything. Democracy is a nice word that does not mean anything other than the hidden agendas of the superpower; just look at the US and the current state when there's no privacy, the government can do anything they want, disregard of another fancy utopic phrase "international law", pillaging the poorer, the richer being more reach, imposing a materialistic and western unsustainable way of life to others... are you sure you want that?

    February 5, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Reply
    • ReligionIs4Dolts

      Marcus, you speak much truth. Thank you, sir. However, at least US has separation of church and state. No islamic country imposing sharia law can claim that.

      February 5, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      hindu boy loving Plato never had any Idea of democracy, but Pharoahnic hinduism of masters and slaves. way of hindus, he himself was a pot head shaman and was prayed to as man god by hindus of the time. What you mention on his name is not his, but some one else writings, way after him, like ever changing bible.

      February 5, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Reply
    • mabk

      It's good to point out the flaws and try to fix them. But I ask you: where else on this planet can multiple cultures, races, genders exist in relative peace, and enjoy the same rights under law? It's not a perfect system by any means. But the whole idea of democracy allows for change. Stop complaining, start creating.

      February 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Reply
  2. ReligionIs4Dolts

    Revolution is a continuous and futile cycle. Just read Orwell's "Animal Farm." That says it all!

    February 5, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Reply
  3. Little Tin God

    What has the Arab Spring accomplished? You mean besides putting nothing? Even more Muslims killing each other over absolutely nothing. Go Muslims!!

    February 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Reply
  4. Max

    Jeffersonian democracy will never exist under the banner of allah. It was a blessing for a period of time to the United States of America from the one and true living God.

    February 6, 2012 at 6:28 am | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Jeffersonian democracy does not exist in USA but hindu democracy based on soul,,desire, it is not mater what they show in their hinduism but what maters is what they hide behind their hindu democracy. Watch out Pundits Pandora box.

      February 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Reply
    • Tahir

      Have you seen the crime rate in democratic America (US). What type of blessing you are talking about.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  5. dave richman

    This is one of the few times when Zakaria has had an opinion that I can agree with. Perhaps he is learning.

    February 6, 2012 at 7:25 am | Reply
  6. clark1b

    democracy isn't the end goal Fareed .... democracy is a governmental system that can be abused just like any other governmental system ... it is the values behind revolution and/or governmental system that provide agendas and outcomes. So, do a bit more in depth homework ... and then you will understand why there is a difference between France, the US, China, India and Russia .... then you can move on to Mexico and Venzuela.

    February 6, 2012 at 11:43 am | Reply
    • Tahir

      Mr Fareed is working on US agenda, he cannot understand what he is writng. His writings are just like the false report of weapons of mass destruction of IRAQ which was to please foolish americans to invade other countries with a complete house vote.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  7. rcjinvegas

    Fareed Zakaria's argument is based on a totally false premise-namely, that the people that run these middle east countries want democracy. Eygpt is run by the military and if the Muslim Brotherhood get into power they certainly won't establish a democracy; also, Libya is run by a group with direct ties to AlQaeda. They also don't want democracy. What you will ultimately get in these middle east countries is more tyrannical regimes more than likely controlled by the United States- or should I say the globablists that Fareed Zakaria represents.

    February 6, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Reply
    • Tahir

      Thanks for writing the truth

      February 6, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  8. Ayala Sharon

    Fareed,
    Your analysis is so very shallow, to match your interest and your point of view. Very simple but most important thing you forgot to mention is that we are dealing with Muslim. This is a religious that keep their people in the 6th century and will never allow them to develop to a democracy, so please stop writing this message of hope for the Arab Country. There is no hope for them.

    February 6, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      western democracy is of Pharoahnic dark ages, based on soul, desire, it is better to be in 6th century as you hind, than to be slaves of pot head western goons like Pharoah man gods. hindus of men have no place to criticize freedom of Islam in truth.

      February 6, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Reply
    • Tahir

      Democracy obtained with terror will not give any result.Have you not seen the fate of democratic govt of HAMAS.

      February 6, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  9. krm1007

    "Experimental Democracy" has failed in India. An experiment that was being shoved down India's throat by western countries too eager to propagate their own values on a country that was trying to decolonize itself while trying to shed the communist skin of being a Soviet ally. India was thus trapped. What has become evident now is that this "Experimental Democracy" has marginalized the country. The marginalized groups of the country – Dalits and ‘backward’ castes/classes, indigenous ‘tribal’ people and religious minorities have been disenfranchised. "The belief that corruption is the important issue in the country is shared only by the minority living in urban areas and towns who have been beneficiaries of economic liberalization policies mandated by western countries. The most important challenges of Indian society remain as follows: justice, social and economic equality and equal access to certain standards of life for all Indians. “While India seems too eager to please its western masters and put on a progressive and softer face for CNN for public consumption, people see through it. The consequences of this "Band – Aid" approach will be brutal for India geo-politically when it realizes that the GDP statistics that it has been relying to gage its progress has not amounted to much in the long run.

    February 6, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      India and Indian will never be free unless and until they shed hinduism, racism among their won people. Indian democracy is nothing but a fake democracy, built not on equality of her population but on hinduism, racism of dark ages.

      February 6, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Reply
      • justiceforall

        Everything is relative. India may not be perfect but compared to Pakistan and their sick Muslims they are Gods.

        February 6, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
      • Mohammad A Dar

        Every hindu, ignorant thinks himself a god in his kingdom of hinduism, ignorance.

        February 6, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • Pleb

      The slumdog millionare dump

      February 6, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Reply
      • Mohammad A Dar

        Called India, dump of illegality.

        February 6, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
  10. justiceforall

    I am not a hindu. I do know many Hindus who are wonderful people. This guy "Muhamad A DAr" has nothing but venom for these peaceful people. I think this is a typical Muslim who turns truth to lies and lies to truth.

    February 6, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      ,hindu is person defines in negativity, Hun for great, han for in greatness and hin, to be in negativity. to both of them. word hinduism is not of a holy nature but a system of negativity. very hard for a hindu to understand. A person is not a hindu, unless he acts in negativity.

      February 6, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Reply
  11. thebeerdude

    Will Iran retaliate if attacked? No, Fareed, they are just going to stand there and take it up the rectum you moron.

    February 6, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Reply
  12. Pleb

    Who let the dogs out ?

    February 6, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Reply
  13. fk ayatoallah fk iran

    الفلسطينيّون في العراق : الجريمة المنسيّة

    شبكة المنصور
    عبد الكريم بن حميدة / تونس

    انخفض عدد الفلسطينيّين في العراق من 34 ألفا إلى 6 آلاف لاجئ فقط في غضون سنوات الاحتلال الأمريكيّ التسع. بعضهم حطّت به رحلة اللجوء في البرازيل، وبعضهم الآخر في الأرجنتين .. وكثير منهم ما زال قابعا في أحد المخيّمات على الحدود مع سوريا أو الأردن..
    ضاقت بهم أرض العراق بعد أن كانت لهم ظهيرا وملاذا.. وغدر بهم الشقيق قبل الصديق.. وعجز شرفاء العراق عن حمايتهم، فحملوا حقائب الرحيل.. وشرعوا في سفرة تيه جديدة.
    من شتات إلى شتات.. ومن لجوء إلى آخر..
    ذلك شأن الفلسطينيّين منذ نكبوا.. وذلك شأنهم منذ انتكسوا..

    في العراق المحتلّ يتعرض الفلسطينيّون لسلسلة من الانتهاكات التي تطال حقوقهم المدنيّة والقانونيّة، مثلما يتعرّضون للتضييقات والملاحقات التي تصل حدّ استهداف ممتلكاتهم وأرواحهم.
    عماد عبد الرحمن حمّاد آخر الضحايا الفلسطينيّين في العراق.. اعتقلوه.. وعذّبوه.. ثمّ قتلوه.
    تهمته الكبرى أنّه.. فلسطينيّ!!!! وعليه أن يدفع ثمن فلسطينيّته على أيدي مغاوير الداخليّة "الأشاوس".
    لن يكون عماد الضحيّة الأخيرة لهوس السلطات العراقيّة بالدم العربيّ. وبالتأكيد لن يكون الحلّ في تعهّدات يقطعها الطالباني أو المالكي للسلطة الفلسطينيّة أو المنظّمات الدوليّة.. فلطالما تعهّد هؤلاء وغيرهم بتوفير الحماية للفلسطينيّين.. لكنّهم لم يفعلوا.. ولن يفعلوا.

    المشكل بالنسبة إلى الذين هُجّروا من العراق إلى داخل الأراضي السوريّة والأردنيّة أنّهم لا يتمتّعون في مخيّماتهم الجديدة بصفة "لاجئ". وهذا يعني أنّهم ليسوا مسجّلين أو مدرجين على قائمات اللاجئين، فلا الجهات الفلسطينيّة الرسميّة تتحمّل مسؤوليّتهم، ولا المنظّمات الإنسانيّة الدوليّة تعترف بوجودهم القانونيّ وتضمن لهم حقوق اللاجئ مثلما تنصّ عليه المواثيق الدوليّة.

    كأنّه عزّ على هذه الجهات أن تمنحهم "شرف" اللجوء!!!
    هم "بدون" فلسطين.. لا يطالبون بحقّهم في المواطنة، فذلك أمر بعيد..
    إنّهم يطالبون بحقّهم في اللجوء، أي الاعتراف بهم لاجئين مع ما يترتّب عن هذا الاعتراف من بعض حقوق.. تكفل لهم بعض حياة...
    السلطة الفلسطينيّة في رام الله، والحكومة الفلسطينيّة في غزّة كلتاهما تتعاملان مع موضوع اللاجئين الفلسطينيّين في العراق وكأنّه شأن يخصّ أصحابه دون سواهم.. فهم المسؤولون عن شتاتهم.. وعن تشرّدهم.

    هؤلاء الفلسطينيّون يطالبون فقط بالاعتراف بهم "لاجئين". وهذا يقتضي من سلطتي غزّة ورام الله تمكينهم من الإقامة القانونيّة ومن الوثائق الإداريّة التي تقنّن وجودهم وتمنحه شرعيّة تنأى بهم عن كلّ أشكال الضغط والابتزاز والملاحقة التي تنتهك كرامة المرء وتصادر حرّيّته. ذلك أنّ حماية هؤلاء اللاجئين تُعتبر مسؤوليّة أخلاقيّة إضافة إلى كونها مسؤوليّة سياسيّة وقانونيّة تقع بالأساس على عاتق ممثّلي الفلسطينيّين قبل أيّ طرف آخر.

    على أنّ هذا الجهد الوطنيّ الضروريّ لا بدّ أن يرافقه جهد إقليميّ دوليّ يخصّ منظّمة التعاون الإسلاميّ والمفوّضية السامية لشؤون اللاجئين (الأنروا)، ذلك أنّه لا يبدو أفق إنسانيّ واضح للمأساة التي يعاني منها فلسطينيّو العراق. بل نعتقد أنّ الرهان على الأمل في عودة الرشد إلى الحكومة العراقيّة أشبه ما يكون بمطاردة وهْم لأنّ ما يتعرّض له أشقّاؤنا هناك إنّما هو جزء من حملة ممنهجة لتهجير من تبقّى منهم تحت ذرائع شتّى وبأساليب تتفنّن القوّات الأمنيّة الحكوميّة في تطويرها وابتداع الجديد منها كلّ يوم.

    على أنّ كلّ هذا لا يجب أن يُغفل دور منظّمات المجتمع المدنيّ ووسائل الإعلام في إثارة هذه القضيّة ومنع اتّساع رقعة معاناة فلسطينيّي العراق، وتسليط الضوء على هذه المأساة حتّى لا ننتقل بعد فوات الأوان من الصمت والغفلة إلى الرثاء والعويل.

    February 7, 2012 at 10:41 am | Reply
  14. Linda

    I hope you are reading all these e-mails. There are a variety of opinons expressed. I would like to add one. What makes Democracy so great? Look at our own Country. The United States is in a downward path to implode because the people in power fail to listen and take their orders from the people on Main Street. Instead they listen to other "powers" (Lobbyist, lawyers, bankers, Wall Street, etc.) and make their decisions on what they want. We do not have a Democracy in America. For those who believe we do, they are living in a tunnel. What has happened is clear. For far too long the people with money have been the people in power. And they have become more greedy each year. Now they are buying elections without restrictions, and peddling trash ads to destroy any opponents. Are you proud of this so-called "Democracy?" I am a daughter of the American Revolution with 12 direct soldiers who were Continental soldiers. They fought for a free America where everyone prospered together. They would not recognize our Congress the way it is now.

    February 7, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Reply
    • mabk

      Yeah, but that's the not problem of democracy! That's the problem of non-democratic actions – actions of people in power who are trying to squeeze out democratic laws and freedoms that we (and your ancestors) fought for. Democracy is a process, a constant process of give and take. We're now in a take trend – and so something's gotta give. But it's still the best place on earth. Gosh! Look at how many different cultures and races and religions live here in relative peace. It's gorgeous. And it's all because of your ancestors. Bless them!

      February 15, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Reply
  15. zarzar

    i wanna try taste democracy in burma. what about it?

    February 9, 2012 at 6:16 am | Reply
  16. mabk

    Thank you for articulating my belief -that democracy is a PROCESS – it's a verb, not an end result – that never ends really – how else do you gain consensus among differing people, much less support and sustain that beautiful interaction that allows for multiple and often opposing views?

    February 15, 2012 at 1:17 pm | Reply
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