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Democracy takes time

Feb 20,2014 - Last updated at Feb 20,2014

When looking at Arab countries in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, it is too hasty to conclude, as some have already concluded, that the drive for democracy has failed.

Two basic lessons we have all, or should have, learned from the events of the past three years: democracy takes time and it unfolds piecemeal.

A quick look at the current situation in Arab Spring countries gives the impression that the drive for democracy has failed.

In Egypt, the intervention by the military and army chief Abdel Fattah Al Sisi’s intention to run for president are seen as both a subversion of the revolution and an indication of reversal of the democratic process.

Militant factions are gaining power and seem to be wreaking havoc on Libya. The situation in Yemen is no better.

In Syria, a horrible civil war is under way, the regime seems to be getting stronger, and the opposition is not only hopelessly divided, but is being hijacked by extremists and terrorists.

Even in Tunisia, where the opposing parties are meeting and coalescing, nothing concrete has materialised.

No one denies the setbacks and the complications. The road to democracy is both thorny and long.

Democracy is not a mobile phone manufactured in one country, exported abroad and easily and readily used at the push of a button, irrespective of borders, hurdles and cultures.

Much has be done to embed democracy effectively.

There is, first and foremost, need to spread true awareness and understanding. One question often asked, even before the advent of the Arab Spring, was whether people in our part of the world truly understand democracy.

The answer, before the Arab Spring and now, is no. 

Democracy is not unqualified freedom. It is not government of the people, by the people, for the people. It is not elections, and it is not simply winning through ballot boxes. Neither is it the majority rule.

It is these in part, but also so many other intertwined things.

The significance of the Arab Spring events is that they have taught people many lessons — the hard way — about democracy.

One is that minorities cannot be ignored in a democracy. Another is that to have viable representation of the people, a country needs viable political parties.

A third is that compromise is essential in democracy. A fourth is that democratic preparations begin at home, in schools and at university — and through other social institutions. A fifth is that violence and suppression do not bring democracy about.

These lessons, I believe, are crucial for democracy to begin to materialise.

Democracy cannot happen overnight. It needs time. It is a matter of evolution more than revolution — or may be a bit of both.

One thing, however, gives us hope in the Arab world, more than all other things: peoples want democracy, and even if they seem to have retreated a bit now, they will continue to insist for it.

But one should not forget that some things have or are already materialising with respect to democracy: some real political parties are being formed, some understandings among the various parties are being arrived at, some constitutions are being reformed, etc.

In Libya, they are working on a new constitution. In Egypt, there is a realisation among all that winning at the ballot box with phenomenal percentages is no longer tolerated.

The parties in Syria now realise that there is no solution without compromise. Tunisia could be on the brink of a breakthrough.

People who want democracy overnight are, I am sure, extremely disappointed, cynical and critical. Those who believe democracy takes time, by contrast, have reason to hope.

There is need for patience. There are no quick or smart solutions here.

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