In 2011, Democracy Blossomed

This was a year of freedom and hope across the globe.

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In the time since the end of the Cold War, there have been many years in which advocates of freedom and democracy found endless reasons for gloom and few for hope. This was not one of those years.

January witnessed protests that led to the departure of Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled Egypt since 1981, and December brought the death of North Korea's Kim Jong Il, whose country erases any distinction between communism and hell. In between came obituaries for a reclusive resident of Abbottabad, Pakistan, who expired during an unscheduled meeting with U.S. Navy SEALs.

Muslims in the Middle East, which had been markedly resistant to the spread of liberty, were responsible for the year's most momentous human rights development. The "Arab spring" began last December when a young Tunisian produce vendor set himself on fire after being abused by police. His act sparked a mass uprising that on Jan. 14 induced tyrant Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country.

Egyptians took to the streets chanting a slogan borrowed from Tunisia: "The people want the fall of the regime." Soon Mubarak was gone, making way for November elections. But before year's end, crowds returned to Cairo's Tahrir Square demanding that the military relinquish its remaining control.

Not all Arab rulers submitted to demands for change. Libya's Moammar Gadhafi fought for months to suppress an armed revolt assisted by NATO, only to be captured and unceremoniously killed.

Syria's Bashar al-Assad was more successful in his savagery, slaughtering some 5,000 constituents dissatisfied with his rule. The Arab League surprised him and the rest of the world by imposing sanctions.

Osama bin Laden died as he was simultaneously losing the military war with the United States and the political battle for the favor of Muslims the world over. The Economist magazine noted that "the most striking feature of the Arab spring remains the complete failure of violently radical Islam."

After decades of almost universal autocracy, Africa has experienced some 30 democratic transfers of power since 1991. In September, Zambian President Rupiah Banda lost at the polls and calmly stepped down. Nigerians re-elected President Goodluck Jonathan in a contest "largely free of the fraud, ballot-stealing and violence that have plagued elections since the country's return to democracy 12 years ago," according to The New York Times.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won a share of the Nobel Peace Prize for helping to restore calm after a civil war, and then won an election boycotted by the opposition but praised by outside monitors. Laurent Gbagbo, whose forces killed thousands after he refused to accept his electoral defeat in Ivory Coast last year, is in The Hague awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.

The protests in the Arab world prompted a harsh response—in China, whose government, fearful of contagion, "cracked down on dissent to an extent we have not seen in over a decade," according to Human Rights Watch. Artist Ai Weiwei, who helped design the striking "Bird's Nest" stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was detained for three months for his political activism.

After the Burmese government released dissident leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent most of the past two decades in confinement, it offered reforms that persuaded her to run for parliament in the coming elections. The changes also convinced Hillary Clinton to become the first U.S. secretary of state to visit the country since 1955.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who presided over an election widely denounced as fraudulent, suffered the additional embarrassment of seeing his party get less than half the rigged vote.

In the country's biggest demonstrations since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, angry citizens marched in numerous cities demanding a "Russia without Putin" and wearing white ribbons as emblems of protest. The prime minister, showing his trademark flair for empathy and humor, said he thought the ribbons were condoms.

In Nicaragua, incumbent President Daniel Ortega won another term despite a constitutional provision barring him from being re-elected. Leftist President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who once referred to George W. Bush as "the devil," was more charitable to reputed socialist Barack Obama, calling him "a clown" and "an embarrassment."

The real embarrassment is the survival of despots who try to keep their countries frozen in time. But as many of them learned in 2011, spring can arrive without notice.

NEXT: Taking All the Fun Out of the Job

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  1. Hymn number 513: Glad that I live am I!

    It’s like the anti-Radley Balko nut punch.

  2. Is this guy supposed to be the token neo-conservative ? There are so many flaws here, all I want to mention is that this author seems to think that Chavez was not democratically elected, he was, the same goes for Putin. Democracy does not equal freedom.

    1. Quite the opposite in fact; democracy is simply the tyranny of the majority.

      Chapman also made the mistake of considering the “Arab Spring” a human rights movement. I agree that it is a human rights movement, I just disagree that it’s a movement in the correct direction.

      1. Well, it *is* a human rights movement.

        If you’re male. And Muslim. The right kind of Muslim. And you know all the right imams. And…

    2. Democracy does not equal freedom.

      Ding! Winner.

    3. Considering that he was cheerleading for Obama a while back I’d say not. Liberals sound like neo-cons when it’s their team bombing for peace.

  3. One could characterize events of the year as many power-hungry people seizing power from other power-hungry people using the frustration of the oppressed. Happy New Year.

    1. One could. But the mad, romantic side of me is cheered by the sight of people rising up. 1989 – bliss it was to be alive in that dawn, but to be young was very heaven. And yeah, it kinda went to shit in some places, and in others settled down into the quotidian dullness of a non-libertarian, so-called “normal” state. And no doubt the same will happen in the places cited here – witness the military coup via people power in Egypt. And yet, if we are serious about spontaneous co-operation and the spirit of liberty, I think we still need to feel some happiness at this list. At least before we lapse back into our normal curmudgeonly ways. Or am I high?

      1. Yeah, kind of brings back the thought of Russia in 1917….ahhh those were the days.

    2. Accurate summation, FoE.

  4. Ron Paul put it BEST the other day in the debate.

    “We negotiated with Kadafi and had him stop trying to procure nuclear weapons…and then we aided his adversaries in having Kadafi MURDERED!!!”

    1. Sorry, but because he was responsible for Pan Am 183, killing Kaddafi was justice.

      1. Funny how after all these years when many western leaders were openly shaking hands with him, now suddenly justice was done. Get a clue, this was not about justice, a lame excuse to justify war, but clearly it does work for dim wits like you.

        1. Funny how after all these years when many western leaders were openly shaking hands with him, now suddenly justice was done.

          We had to catch him off guard. Pretty slick, huh?

      2. Actually, He blew up PAN AM FLIGHT 103 over Scotland AFTER WE KILLED HIS DAUGHTER.

        1. Actually, He blew up PAN AM FLIGHT 103 over Scotland AFTER WE KILLED HIS DAUGHTER the Western media mindlessly parroted Kaddafi’s claim that one of his many children was killed during a U.S. bombing strike.

          IIRC the bombing strike was retaliatory.

          1. Plus, who can blame him for blowing up Pan Am Flight 103 because somebody killed his daughter? It’s exactly what any rational person would have done.

            1. Exactly!!!

              But these people will continue on and on justifying this crap.

              I SAY: his murder lacked justice
              THEY SAY: he blew up flight 103
              I SAY: because we killed his kid
              THEY SAY: How do you know
              etc, etc, etc

              The fact is, if you take it ALL THE BACK, it leads to the creation Israel in 1947 without any regards to the people who lived there (that objected to the occupation).

              THEY SAY: It was JEWISH 2k yrs ago

              I SAY: it was the Muslims the day
              before Israel declared statehood.

              THEY SAY: I’m an Anti-Semite.

              …and that’s the end of the argument. In the USA, there’s no beating that one.

              1. Well, coherent people can sometimes win arguments.

                1. ? All we are say-ee-ing,
                  ? is give peace a chance

                  1. All Israel and America are say-ee-ing, is give WAR a chance.

              2. without any regards to the people who lived there

                Political self-determination. How does it work?

  5. We have seen many dictators overthrown this year, especially in the Middle East. Unfortunately, it appears they are all being replaced by new thugs who will become dictators.

    For example, wasn’t banning protests one of the first acts of the new Egyptian government?

    1. Banning protests misses the point of protests…

  6. If by “human rights” you mean that the 82% of Egyptians (circa 2010!) who favor stoning as a punishment for adultery, the 77% who favor whipping and/or cutting of hands for theft, and the 84% who favor the death penalty for apostasy now get to vote those draconian punishments into effect…then you are correct.

    1. the 82% of Egyptians (circa 2010!) who favor stoning as a punishment for adultery, the 77% who favor whipping and/or cutting of hands for theft, and the 84% who favor the death penalty for apostasy

      Ahem.

      1. Hey Allah, what are you going to do about the softcocks who don’t favor stoning / whipping / the death penalty? Plague of locusts? Smiting their first-born? This is Egypt after all.

        1. ** stifles giggles**

          “Arab spring”!

    2. Egypt once produced Hypathia, I wonder how long it will take until the next one comes along.

  7. It is way early to claim that Egypt, Libya or Tunisia will be better places now that they have deposed their dictators.

    Meet the new boss
    Same as the old boss

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rp6-wG5LLqE

  8. List of companies supporting SOPA

    http://gizmodo.com/5870241/pre…..orship-law

    1. Without even looking at the link, I would bet my two kidneys that Microsoft and Apple are on that list.

      1. Might want to check that, someone might try to collect.

        Not sure about Apple’s official stance, but they aren’t on that list, and Microsoft is straight up opposed to it and pressuring the business software associations they’re in to not support it either.

        1. Ok, you can fetch your 2 kidneys, has MS had a damascene conversion or something

          1. Three reasons I suspect.

            First, they’ve picked up a rather sanguine attitude towards piracy in the last decade. “If they’re going to pirate,we want them pirating our stuff.” They don’t get money from those copies, but they do get marketshare, mindshare and network effects. Microsoft goes after the guys churning out bootleg Windows en masse and occasionally bans an abused enterprise key, but you’ll notice they’ve never sued Granny for the GDP of a small African country, as far as I know.

            Second, Bing. Microsoft has a keen interest in not having to break their search engine to please the RIAA.

            Third, they’re a tech company. They know exactly what’s in that bill, why it won’t work, and how badly it’ll screw up the Internet in the process of not working.

  9. Chapman is full of shit! How could the happenings this year be construed as a positive for Democracy? When everybody can vote, everybody loses.

  10. Yep. The days when women can go out without covering and wearing western cloths are over in Egypt, likwise over are Libyans watching western movies or playing PS3 games (yes it was sold there)

    The protests in the Arab world prompted a harsh response — in China, whose government, fearful of contagion, “cracked down on dissent to an extent we have not seen in over a decade,” according to Human Rights Watch.

    “Some of our moderate Arab allies will be overthrown by Islamic fundamentalists.

    … China ironically assisted by American aid, much more openly, will sell the militant Muslims the weapons they want and will align herself with the Arab nations”
    — Ron Paul, April 24, 2002, U.S. House
    ( youtube.com/watch?v=pvlUx5ECD2w )

    Not all Arab rulers submitted to demands for change. Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi fought for months to suppress an armed revolt assisted by NATO, only to be captured and unceremoniously killed.

    “Gaddafi may well be every bit the “bad guy” we are told he is, but who are the rebels we are assisting? Do we have any clue? Will they bring freedom and prosperity to Libya if they are victorious? We might like to hope so, but the fact is, we don’t know. Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden unit, explained in a recent article that there is plausible reason to believe the rebels are current or former Islamist mujahedin, eager to engage in jihad.

    Indeed, Gaddafi has fought against Libyan Islamists for years and is seen by them as a bitter enemy. Astoundingly, it may well be that we are assisting al Qaeda in this new war!”
    — Ron Paul March 28, 2011

    Oh hey, lookie here!
    Earlier this week, I went to the Benghazi courthouse and confirmed the rumors: an al Qaeda flag was clearly visible; its Arabic script declaring that “there is no God but Allah” and a full moon underneath. When I tried to take pictures, a Salafi-looking guard, wearing a green camouflage outfit, rushed towards me and demanded to know what I was doing. My response was straightforward: I was taking a picture of the flag. He gave me an intimidating look and hissed, “Whomever speaks ill of this flag, we will cut off his tongue. I recommend that you don’t publish these. You will bring trouble to yourself.”

    The Economist magazine noted that “the most striking feature of the Arab spring remains the complete failure of violently radical Islam.”

    Reality. How does it work?

  11. I can’t wait until the religious zealots complete their take over of Egypt and decide to close the Suez Canal to Western traffic.

    It will be fun to watch the warmongering from all quarters of Europe, from the same folks who routinely condemn the U.S. for its militarism, the very same folks who are secretly supportive of Egypt shipping arms to Gaza.

    Hilarity will ensue!

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  13. Why do they still publish this idiot who has no clue which way is up?

    Every ME country he talks about is still a hell hole, quite possibly worse than before, and they’ll almost certainly still be that way a decade from now.

    I’ll bet the people living in those countries would be glad to know that Stevie Boy feels good inside.

  14. These social protests only prove that the trust in democratic liberalism has failed. As it was once said, “democracy is nothing more than mob rule”. In fact, it causes nothing but loss of control over the country, where noone can be claimed guilty of the deadlock we are in now.

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  15. Libertarians worldwide spent a lot of time on this issue, see: http://www.libertarianinternational.org

  16. Democracy is not the same as human rights, free markets, and liberties (French Revolution, anyone?). Before you start lauding the turnarounds in Southwest Asia, note that they will not inevitably lead to more just societies.

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