Sunday, August 7, 2011

Getting Beyond Democratic Sentiment in Revolution

The world has been greatly encouraged by the democratic uprisings throughout the Arab world throwing off corrupt dictators in Tunisia and Egypt and continued struggles in places like Syria and Iran. People want democracy and democratic governments and are willing to go to the streets and survive often savage beatings from security forces loyal to the old regime. That is a sacrifice that should never be ignored, just like soldiers in democratic societies die to keep their countries free, the soldiers of revolution in places like Tunisia and Egypt are often the shopkeepers, cab drivers, and textile workers rather than large mechanized forces. Transition to democratic regimes have been en vogue over the last decade from the Colored Revolutions throughout East Central Europe and Asia to the recent Arab Spring, but what makes some revolutions successful, while others flounder?

It’s one thing to protest in the streets screaming “We want democracy and freedom.” Democracy and freedom are powerful ideas with a broad based appeal, but once the hated previous regime is kicked out, someone has to have a plan for the future. There often isn’t as big an appetite for the messy and complex task of governing as there is for the mass street demonstrations and people often grow frustrated with an unfulfilled promise of democracy, which can lead to a military coup or the reelection of the former dictator under democratic processes like Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

Other revolutions like the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon or the Denim Revolution in Belarus fail because either the leader remains strong enough to survive the protests or because the revolution itself does not have great support among the masses. The ladder occurred in Lebanon where the United States backed the so called Cedar Revolution, which brought into power forces more moderate than Hezbollah. Unfortunately, the infighting between the tenuous coalitions within the Lebanese government created conditions where nothing got done allowing Hezbollah to provide services the government wasn’t/couldn’t and thereby gain the favor of the population.

I present these comments as a caution to democratic friends among the oppressed people of the world. It is one thing to chant in the streets, it is quite another to govern the street.

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