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Freedom's Next Wave?
Since January, the world has witnessed dramatic expressions of human freedom across the Middle East. Touched off by Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26 year old Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself on fire to protest an attack on his economic liberty, millions of brave individuals from Cairo to Manama to Sanaa have demonstrated their commitment to a future rooted in freedom. Already, two autocratic rulers have departed—Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Others have promised reforms. Still others preside over chaos. Is it possible that freedom’s next wave has begun? Three significant groundswells of freedom have swept the globe since the nineteenth century. As the late Samuel Huntington documented, the first wave occurred between 1828 and 1926 as democracy developed and matured in the United States and other countries. The Allied victory in World War II ushered in democracy’s second wave. The third wave unfolded in the 1970s and 1980s, as dictatorships collapsed and freedom spread to parts of Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Twenty years ago, the world watched excitedly as the Berlin Wall fell and Soviet communism collapsed. Until now, few would have ventured that the Middle East was ripe for sweeping change. As the watchdog organization Freedom House recently noted, “broad advances for freedom [have] enriched every part of the world save the Middle East and North Africa.” By its own calculation, 95 percent of countries in the region are either “not free” or “partly free.” Only Israel is considered “free.” The first dramatic sign that the Middle East status quo was in doubt occurred not two months ago, but nearly two years ago in Iran. Responding to fraudulent presidential elections in June 2009, thousands of men and women employed cell phones and social networking sites to call people to the streets and decry a stolen victory for the opposition. While suppressed with violence, these demonstrations of bravery and sacrifice for freedom no doubt gave inspiration to recent protests in Tunisia and Egypt. And now, as Institute executive director Jim Glassman recently noted, “a virtuous circle may be developing, with Iran ’09 helping to create Egypt ’11, which may help create Iran ’11 or ‘12, and so on…" While the future of freedom in the Middle East remains uncertain, and a long road of reform now stands before the people of Egypt and Tunisia, one thing is clear: the desire for human freedom is indeed universal.  Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century.  http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfm?page=594
About the Author
Amanda W. Schnetzer Director for Human Freedom George W. Bush Institute