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?

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