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 (849 Responses)


    The unemployment rate has dropped to 8.5 %. Sorry! I misspoke. Make that 8.3%. Sorry Mitt! Hahahahaha!

    February 3, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Reply
  2. Jane

    The MOST corrupt governing/political system in the world is , you guessed it right , Democracy !
    Don't believe me , look up stats.

    February 3, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Reply
    • Sleeper68

      "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."
      ~Winston Churchill

      February 3, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Reply
      • Mohammad A Dar

        He was whiskys bum and spoke while he was high on it. Only a drunk in hinduism, denial of truth can take his absurdity seriously.

        February 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
      • Jane

        Talking worldy Stats here pal. Not a famous saying by somebody famous.
        Lets stick to facts, shall we .

        February 3, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
      • Jane

        Talking worldy Stats here pal. Not a famous saying by somebody famous.
        Lets stick to facts, shall we .

        February 3, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
    • Sleeper68

      You didn't provide any facts.

      You say Democracy is bad but you didn't mention what was better. I think Churchill was right, democracy is not perfect but the best we've come up with so far.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  3. Sleeper68

    It's a shame that the people in the Middle East would elect fundamentalists to lead them but maybe this is just a step in the process toward what should be the ultimate goal; western style, free-market democracy. The fundamentalists will do a horrible job and the people will finally realize what a bunch of crap the Muslim Brotherhood et al have been peddling. The next revolution will be the one that truly frees these people. Just look at Iran. 30 years of these bozos and the Iranian people are possibly the least religious in the region. Let's hope the Brotherhood's reign is much shorter.

    February 3, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  4. me138

    Democracy sucks.

    February 3, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  5. Panderbear

    "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." – Winston Churchill.

    As the current state of affairs in the U.S. testify, Democracy gets messy long after the shockwaves of revolution have attenuated. Often it is the result of forgetting that a representative democracy by its nature requires compromise. Polarized opinions and my-way-or-the-highway politics threaten the foundations of democracy.

    “Every man cannot have his way in all things. If his opinion prevails at some times, he should acquiesce on seeing that of others preponderate at other times. Without this mutual disposition we are disjointed individuals, but not a society.” – Thomas Jefferson.


    February 3, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  6. Mohammad A Dar

    They have dumped way of life based on soul, desire like animals and choose to live by truth absolute, no human should have problem with it unless person is hindu of his soul, desire.

    February 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Reply
  7. ScottH

    This is called Fareed going to bat for Obama and the handing of the "Arab Spring" off to the Muslim Brotherhood... which most people (outside of Obama and the State Dept.) knew would be folly. Because, you know, those Muslim power-vacuums always turn out so well for the free world...

    February 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Reply
  8. Jane

    Democracy will not work in that part of the world as long as we blindly support the rogue aggressive country known as Israel.. How many more wars do we have to lose. How many more sons, daughters, husbands and wives we have to lose before we wise up. The world hates us , our econmy is in shambles. Not a lot of countries/regimes trust us . Its safe to say that we messed everything up to the point of no return
    And remember whenever you get sacred , just say :
    God bless America !
    and everything will be OK................

    February 3, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Reply
    • Tahir

      i am amazed why you are not affected by US media mafia. An american speaking reality is very rare.Nice to meet you

      February 6, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Reply
  9. Kevininvancouver

    These people aren't worthy of a free and democratic society. They and us were better off with Mubarak.

    February 3, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      hindu loves his hindu brother in their hinduism denial of truth.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  10. MichaelMRW

    Fareed let us not make the same mistake as George W Bush. American military freed Iraq and there was a lull. Then the sectarian prejudices were restarted and the country socially, religiously and politically came apart at the seems. In Egypt the people have done what American troops did in Iraq. Yet in Egypt like Iraq there was no basis or structure for a Non Islamic solution. They will have an Iraqi experience.

    Democracy does take tim,e but the comparison you make to the American revolution is really no comparison at all. Americans had the Magna Carta and a religion that agreed with Separation of Church and State. During the early American years you use as an example Americans wrote the Bill of Rights.

    Muslims in Egypt, Iraq or where ever have no real desire to separate church and state, it is foreign to their core belief system. Therefore they will produce a different result than we in the West. During my banking career I had several Armenian clients that came from Turkey. They say regardless of what the newspapers write Turkey operates as an Islamic State. Non Muslims are second class citizens.

    These are facts that when ignored produce disastrous results. Bush made a Trillion Dollar Mistake costing too many lives and if I might respectfully submit yours mistake is one of over optimistic benevolence. Systemic values changes in core Muslim values are necessary for true democracy to take place and they may never produce the freedom you and I cherish as Americans.

    February 3, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Reply
    • Amato


      February 3, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Reply
    • Marek Boudain

      Armenians will NEVER tell the truth about Turkey. You have to completely ignore their lies and propaganda and find out the truth for yourself. Turkey is absolutely superior to Armenia in every way, Armenians are not at all in a position to criticize pretty much any country but some in Africa. Armenians are far behind the rest of the world when it comes to human rights, treatment of other ethnic groups and minorities belonging to different religions. In fact, even different denominations of Christianity are discriminated against in Armenia and you wouldn't be able to built a church that is not Armenian Orthodox. Nobody cares, you don't hear about it, because Armenia is as insignificant as it gets.

      February 4, 2012 at 3:06 am | Reply
  11. MustReason

    Right, like the French Revolution, we only need to wait another 200 years or so for these countries to evolve into civilized democracies.. an excellent prospect.

    February 3, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Civility is based on fundamental truth not on hindu soul, desire, as hindus do in their secular self centered hinduism. Civility is based on Islam not denial of it.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Reply
      • MustReason

        I rest my case

        February 3, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
      • MikeB

        Another Supremacist justifying his crimes against humanity upon the doctrine of a Theocratic Oligarchy.

        February 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
      • Mohammad A Dar

        Theocratic is based on a theory or a hypothesis and bases of religions, but not of Islam, Islam is fundamentally factual proven by science, not hindusm of hindus, making subject of truth, a truth themselves in their hindu theorem, hypothesis.

        February 3, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • Tahir

      The crime rate in US tells us very clearly how civilized you are.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Reply
  12. Toppolina

    Amazing how this article got a lot of comments and many anti Islam ones. That said, you are absolutely right, democracy has a price, a very high price, but the end justifies the means. We can say fear is gone and there is no going back and the rulers of Arab countries will think twice before oppressing their people, even in Syria, Bashar el Assad is now planning for a way out with his loot. People come and go, but countries stay. Egypt is more than 7000 years old and it will survive and will come out victorious like its capital name.

    February 3, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  13. JC

    "Arab Spring" has achieved exactly nothing. Ten thousand years of history and civilization, destroyed in a hundred years. The violence and chaos of these middle-ages people (as evident over the soccer riots in Egypt) does not contain any seeds of democracy; it never has. What have they managed to do in all this time but kill the family members of their "prophet," and then fall out and kill each other fighting over the spoils? So the old strong men are being replaced with new ones. So what?

    February 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Reply
  14. Bruce McCoy

    All very well, but we can't do anything about it anyway until we see where it's going. It'll be interesting to see how Iran's troubles and responses to sanctions, pressure, and internal turmoil affects Islamic hegemony

    February 3, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      More one pushes a truthful Muslim, harder he fights back, till hinduism of hindus in soul, desire is no more.

      February 3, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Reply
      • MikeB

        How is that 'free' will? Pushing someone into something is what, the devil's plan?

        February 3, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
      • Mohammad A Dar

        Denial of truth is illegality, to stop illegality or to punish a criminal is not hell but to put them in their place, hell is noble, not criminal, but just in hinduism of hindu's.

        February 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
      • MikeB

        Does that also apply to you if your self-proclaimed truth is a lie when it comes to the rights and liberties of others?

        February 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
      • Mohammad A Dar

        To stop some from illegality is not devilish plan but only in hinduism of a hindu.

        February 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
      • MustReason

        Mohammad, you have determined that your particular opinion regarding matters supernatural is "absolute truth". You then force your opinion onto others. Those who disagree with you are "illegal criminals to be punished". In summary, you are are an lunatic. The problem is that the Middle East is full of lunatics just like you.. some of whom hold high government office.

        February 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
      • Mohammad A Dar

        Rights are wages earned of duties discharged. Right means limit, rights are responsibly, responsibilities are liabilities and liabilities are subject to accountability. No accountability no rights, rights without accountability only in hinduism of hindus.

        February 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
      • Mohammad A Dar

        Lunatic or indulged in self or known as a secular, self centered is not the way of Muslims but of hindus. What I wrote is scientific proven by Quantum Physics, latest to be in Switzerland, Every thing or person has to be within truth or its Quantum or it does not work. Please do some scientific studies before to be argumentive in soul, desire.

        February 3, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  15. Rob

    It was an uprising with no structure. They should not have ripped down the structure they had, until they could provide a path for a new structure. Now they will face chaos. After a time with chaos, they will welcome governance. Unfortunately, the people who will take power will be worse than the a-wipes they threw out. That's just the way it works in plain 'ole simple english.

    They look at democracy as a way to create wealth. They have confused the will for democracy with a means to wealth. Here in the US we are not a people's democracy, we are a republic. We democratically elect our leaders for defined periods of time and set term limits to continually usher them out so no one can really take power. Our so called 'wealth' based on our history of embracing the private sector and capitalism.

    As much as the Middle East proclaims that we misunderstand them, I certainly am sure they completely ignorant of how western civilization works and are unwilling to admit it. They think they know everything and listen to no one except their religious leaders. Even Americans are allowing themselves to be ignorant of how our government and economic system is structured.

    February 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
    • MikeB

      For the Muslim Brotherhood to get control of these countries they have to use Democracy to get the majority to relinquish their Liberty to them or induce Anarchy so the the people beg them to restore order.
      Until the people establish a Republic governed by the 'Rule of Law', with equal justice for all, the Oligarch of the Muslim Brotherhood or any other Oligarch will impose their will upon the people.

      February 3, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Reply
      • Mohammad A Dar

        Word Law is corruption of word La. the limit absolute,or the truth, handiwork of crocks to enslave humanity. Thing have to go by their factual flow or in truth or by Law, product of hindu soul, desire live in mayhem. Brother hood purpose in not Law, but rule by La. the truth and secular, self centered hindus have no clue of it in life.

        February 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
      • MikeB

        Your definition of truth violates human potential by reducing us to slaves of an Oligarch that has its authority through indoctrination, fear of the governing Oligarch, and emotional distress of it subjects.
        No thank you.

        February 3, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
      • Mohammad A Dar

        Human own nothing but choice in life under the control of Truth, No one has ever existed without control of truth and nothing will ever exist without truth. Have choices in positive or things never work.

        February 3, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
      • MikeB

        The trouble is that your 'truth' is ethereal.

        February 3, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
      • Mohammad A Dar

        Matter of opinion, having nothing to do with truth absolute.

        February 3, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
  16. attomind

    Democracy does take time, however, with radical Islamic fundamentalists in play, there is no realistic hope for it. Islamic zealots believe in killing anyone that does not smell bad and believe in Muhammad.

    February 3, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Only in hinduism of a hindu, having nothing to do with truth.

      February 3, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Reply
  17. Jack

    I tend to favor the first few paragraphs of the article and discount the rest. A curious note is that when the Arabs live under repressive and authoratarian rule, the lights work, the water runs, the toilets flush and basic services are usually at least passable.

    When they overthrow or remove their dictators, the whole country seems to revert to almost precivilized conditions. They have no idea nor intent to follow or understand Western ideals of democracy, for it puts the onus on the individual instead of the hive...the mentality of Islam refused to recognize Democracy as anything but bad, because it frees the individuals mind to think outside of Islam or its ways, and that's the paramount danger, not backed up toilets...

    February 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Reply
    • MikeB

      The Oligarchy that is fomenting the unrest can't afford to let the people be at peace. It deflects the cause of the unrest to the object of its intended conquest. Bringing peace to this regions would cause that the people would not stand as an army against the West. No one wants to fight if they have what they want and are comfortable.

      February 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  18. Descarado

    Obama and the media's "Arab Spring" acid trip opened the door for the Islamists and at least a generation of war and violence and instability in the Middle East.

    February 3, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      What a hinduism, It was not Obama but Osama. hindus.

      February 3, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
    • Tahir

      This is the true face of USA

      February 6, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Reply
  19. Babu

    The Arab Spring has ways to go to liberate Bahrain from the tyranny of the current rulers until democracy and justice are established there.

    February 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      No, first England and Than Behran, because they are creation of hindu England, and her have to be freed first.

      February 3, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  20. EG

    Well-said? I wouldn't believe everything you read on here. Especially if it's written by Fareed. You have two-plus millenia of a violent, abusive culture. Nothing is going to change over there unless people start treating each other with dignity, including women and children. The ones who are now abusers were mistreated as children. And if the children in these countries continue to be mistreated, they will become abusers due to the hatred they carry.

    Don't believe everything you read, people. Especially if you have not been over there. Fareed is about as fair-and-balanced as a deck chair on the Costa Concordia.

    February 3, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Reply
  21. Ken from FL

    And once again Fareed bloviates. Oh. yes. I'm really optimistic about the Arab Spring and how its "democracy" has brought Islamic political parties to power. Democracy is more than an election, it is an acceptance of democratic ideals, including the dignity of all human beings, including women. Good luck with that in the "new" Middle East.

    February 3, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
    • Tahir

      Who will define the dignity and other values. Mr Bush and Obama and you fool.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Reply

    Freedom in an incredible thing. Egyptians had been deprived of basic rights for decades. The comments here need some moderation. I see a lot of direct attacks on journalism and views. Some are taking this personal and expressing views that are irrelevant to article.

    February 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  23. ReligionIs4Dolts

    If the Arab Spring hasn't woken up the masses enough to make them eradicate State-sponsored religion (Islam), then it is a failure.

    February 3, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Personality worship and self richness are fundamentals of religions, hinduism and Islam has nothing to do with it, but in hinduism of hindus.

      February 3, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Reply
  24. Jt_flyer

    A better question is what has the middle east accomplished since Islam?

    February 3, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Get some history lessons, every thing west has is based on Islamic research, look at foundation of your school books, unless one is a hindu, uneducated.

      February 3, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Reply
    • ReligionIs4Dolts

      "every thing west has is based on Islamic research"

      Uhhh, yeah, like the number ZERO. Good one, Mohammed.

      February 3, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Reply
    • Tahir

      If it has not accomplished any thing what are you doing in middle east.Take your forces out if there is nothing attractive there. Dont make people fool.

      February 6, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      kkdn nd usssl jjs nuub

      October 15, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Reply
  25. Rick McDaniel

    Perhaps the reality is that it actually made things worse. It appears that Islamic takeovers is all that has come of it, and that in the longer view, the threat of Islam, to the world as a whole, has greatly increased.

    February 3, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Not any more than mafia fearing the law enforcement. out law's better watch out.

      February 3, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  26. Uncle Musty

    Jeez Fareed, what makes you think they are going to change when they have been behaving this way for over 1500 years?

    February 3, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Reply
    • Tahir

      We know how have you behaved in iraq, vietnam and afghanistan and the christian behaviour of killing people in world war

      February 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Reply
  27. malthusian

    We all know what it's all about, but the political-correctness stupidity make the west unable to articulate the obvious - namely that we are at war with fundamentalist Islam. See – Egypt, Libya, Tunisa, now Syria - are taken over by the fundamentalists with the blessing of the West – claiming this is a democratic change and spending $$ to help them (Lybia) and Egypt ($$$) – the second biggest recipient of US foreign aid. How about Pakistan – -that also receives US aid to help the Taliban. This does not make any sense at all. Ron Paul is right in the sense – that getting out of there means at-least that you are not helping your adversaries.

    So, it is a strange situation , when you help your adversaries to achieve their goals - unless there is something worse than stupidity.

    February 3, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Reply
  28. Fredflintstone

    Islamic law is absolutely incompatible with democracy. It is a theocratic system with Allah alone at its head. Allah's law is interpreted by a ruling body of clerics. There is no room for a secular political system in which all people are treated as equals.

    The Qur'an:
    Qur'an (33:36) – "It is not fitting for a Believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about their decision."

    Qur'an (45:21) – "What! Do those who seek after evil ways think that We shall hold them equal with those who believe and do righteous deeds,- that equal will be their life and their death? Ill is the judgment that they make." Unbelievers are not equal to Muslims. This is dutifully reflected in Islamic law.

    Qur'an (39:9) – "Are those who know equal to those who know not?"

    Qur'an (4:141) – "...And never will Allah grant to the unbelievers a way (to triumphs) over the believers." This is at odds with democracy, which allows anyone to serve in a position of power over others regardless of religious belief.

    Qur'an (63:8) – "...might (power) belongeth to Allah and to His messenger and to the believers;" ie. not to anyone else.

    Qur'an (5:49) – "So judge between them by that which Allah hath revealed, and follow not their desires, but beware of them lest they seduce thee from some part of that which Allah hath revealed unto thee" Allah's Qur'an takes priority over the desires of the people. A democratic nation is by nature one that is not governed by Islamic law, meaning that a Muslim citizen would have divided loyalty. It's clear from this verse which side he must choose.

    Qur'an (4:123) – "Not your desires, nor those of the People of the Book (can prevail): whoever works evil, will be requited accordingly. Nor will he find, besides Allah, any protector or helper."

    Qur'an (4:59) – "O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority from among you..." Obedience is strictly limited to a government drawn from believers, not from the broader community. This verse has also been used to justify submission to autocratic rule, however oppressive it may by. As an Arab tradition put is: "tyranny is better than anarchy."

    Qur'an (9:3) – "...Allah and his messenger are free from obligation to the unbelievers..." Muhammad used this "revelation" to dissolve a standing treaty and chase non-Muslims from their homes if they wouldn't accept Islam. This practice would be incompatible with democratic rule, in which everyone is considered equal.

    February 3, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Truth absolute and proven by science of Quantum Physics. need any more, no man has capacity to be truth because he is under the La. truth absolute and rest of it is hinduism of sou, desire. Islam is about perfection not hinduism, denial of it by soul, desire, because human has no capacity to do so.

      February 3, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Reply
    • ReligionIs4Dolts

      Mohammed.....KATUWA.....wherefore dost thou prate on about Hinduism so? Art thou Paki?

      February 3, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Reply
    • Tahir

      Please leave your veto right in UN to show a democratic behaviour and let world decide about world affairs in a democratic way.I hope you will stand up for this also.Good luck

      February 6, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
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