Technology as Democratic Catalyst

Democracy, it seems, is resurgent. Yes, it is too early to tell whether the winds of change that have been blowing in the former Soviet republics and the Arab world in recent months will result in sustainable gains for freedom and liberalism. But the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, anti-Syrian protests in Lebanon, tentative steps toward a multiparty system in Egypt, municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, a revolt against authoritarianism in Kyrgyzstan -- these are not insignificant events.

After this dizzying succession of revolutions over the last few months, the question on many people's minds -- scholars, pundits and polemicists alike -- is "Why now?" What, indeed, accounts for this worldwide loosing of popular democratic sentiment within the space of a few months?

Many answers have been proposed. Some point to international causes: the military overthrow of authoritarian regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq was shock therapy for a stagnant Middle East and Central Asia; the Iraqi elections inspired others who are living without the benefits of democracy; the latest developments are just a continuation of the "third wave" of democratization that began at the end of the Cold War. Other answers to the "Why now?" question relate to the conditions within societies that lead to the successful mobilization of democratic sentiment -- the factors that allow unified oppositions and disciplined political movements to form.

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