Anatomy of Arab revolutions shows trend toward democracy

(By Deutsche Welle) Although the Arab world has traditionally lagged behind the global trend toward greater democracy, a liberal revolution that began in Tunisia has put monarchies and dictators throughout the region on the defensive.

For decades, the Arab world stagnated under authoritarianism despite a global expansion of democracy beyond its historic core in North America and Western Europe. According to the US think tank Freedom House, the number of democracies in the world more than doubled by the new millennium, as communism collapsed and strongmen from Latin America to Southeast Asia were forced from power.

Although the Middle East appeared immune to this liberalizing trend, popular uprisings now referred to as the “Arab Spring” have successfully forced authoritarian regimes from power in Tunisia and Egypt, demonstrating that even political heavyweights like former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak are ultimately accountable to the people.

“We’re seeing in a sense the global spread of the aspirations for democracy finally coming to the surface in the Arab world,” Jack Goldstone, an expert on revolutions with George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, told Deutsche Welle.

But turning an uprising against an authoritarian leader into a broader revolution that brings true political change is more difficult. Although the regimes in Egypt and Tunisia have been successfully ousted, the future is uncertain. And in Libya, Syria and Yemen, peaceful calls for civil rights have descended into violence.

“Whether this results in revolutions or not depends on the local regimes,” Goldstone said.

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Death by fire: Self-immolation in the Arab World

(By Deutsche Welle) As the political upheaval that began in Tunisia spreads from Egypt to Libya, dozens of people across the Arab world have publicly set themselves on fire. Are these self-immolations acts of despair or political protest?

Last December, a young unemployed street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire outside of the municipal building in the remote Tunisian town Sidi Bouzid. He died of his self-inflicted wounds weeks later.

Bouazizi’s self-immolation, the act of burning oneself to death, became the symbol of a popular uprising that toppled Tunisia’s authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Inspired by events in Tunisia, the Arab street protests subsequently forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down and have now placed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi under siege.

As revolutionary fervor engulfs the Arab world, dozens of people from Morocco to Yemen have lit themselves on fire in front of municipal buildings, parliaments, and presidential palaces. Are these gruesome suicides acts of personal desperation triggered by hopeless social conditions, or are they a form of political protest designed to expose societal injustice and incite popular uprisings?

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