Saturday, March 26, 2011
The Fourth Wave
Huntington wrote a book in 1993 called "The Third Wave," about the wave of democratic transitions that took place in Southern Europe and Latin America, including Brazil, in the 1980s and 90s. The first two waves of democracy had taken place between 1828-1926 and 1945-1962, he noted. He explained a series of factors that made this third wave possible, but did not go on to say they had been inevitable. The last place that Huntington thought there would be democratic change was in the Islamic world. Most students of the Middle East and Central Asia would have agreed with him.
However, Huntington would have surely been one of the first to identify the current democratic uprisings in Northern Africa and the Middle East as a likely fourth wave of democratization. Though the dust certainly has not settled on the region and many properly express concern that these revolutions could be "high-jacked" by militant Islamic extremists, there are not concrete indications that this is happening or, even more important, that Islamic fundamentalism is at the root or even a part of these movements.
This is why I remain nonplussed by the consistent note of scepticism about these democratic revolutions and especially the decision of the international community to go in to protect and support the revolution in Libya. This is an unparalleled opportunity to see the entire Arab world move in the direction of democracy and modernity. Whether these revolutions have external support could be critical, if we read Huntington, to their success. It is easy to say, "this is not my fight," but in fact we have huge interests, global interests, in their success. I hope others can see it this way.