What does it take to build a democracy?

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I mentioned earlier this month that the Egyptian Pyramids have never stood on the soil of a democratic state in all their 4500 years. The situation is broader than that: there has never been a true Arab democracy. Iraq is stumbling its way there, but remains under U.S. military occupation.

There are examples of Muslim (though not Arab) democracies in Turkey and Indonesia, but they are at best rough models for what could work in Egypt now that Hosni Mubarak has finally been forced out. Israel's hurly-burly coalition governments could be a model too, though I doubt most Egyptians see it that way.

The transition to democracy can be rough and winding. The United States and France had their violent revolutions in the 1700s, establishing states with voting rights for their citizens, but the Americans took a century and a Civil War to purge themselves of slavery, while the French lived through two different Napoleons. More recently, when the U.S.S.R. flew apart 20 years ago, some countries, like the Czech Republic and Estonia, became successful democracies quite quickly. Others, such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, not so much. South Africa managed to avoid violent civil war, but perhaps only because of Nelson Mandela.

Is it easier if a country establishes a representative government relatively fresh, the way Canada did in 1867, or Japan and Germany did after utter defeat in World War II? Perhaps, but what's to say that the citizens of Egypt, which probably has garbage piles older than some successful democratic states elsewhere in the world, don't now have the motivation (and long experience with autocracy) to build a viable nation of their own?

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