The Arab Wave

Contrary to so much conventional wisdom, the struggle for democracy in the Middle East is not new. The events of 2011 have deep roots in the nineteenth century. Islamic culture and self-governance are not mutually exclusive.

Issue: May-June 2011

FOR DECADES, the Arab world has lived under a variety of governments whose only point in common was the degree of autocracy they imposed on their citizens. Some blamed Arab culture, others said that Islam was incompatible with popular rule, but most agreed that the Arabs were bucking a global trend of democratization.

Yet the despair that drove the Tunisian vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi to set himself on fire in protest against an unjust and venal government is an angst shared across the region—and his terrible example inspired others to rise up and demand their political rights from regimes long seen as corrupt, as enriching themselves at the expense of their people.

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