In December 2010, a young Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire, apparently in protest at state harassment. His death unleashed shockwaves around the world and contributed to the downfall of the authoritarian regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali a month later. The wave of regional change unleashed by the Tunisian protests, or the ‘Arab Spring’ as it has come to be known, can be seen to form part of the long ‘third wave’ of (sometimes problematic) democratization that began in the 1970s, reflecting what Diamond (2008a: 4–6) calls the ‘democratic spirit’ of the contemporary age. In the global (dis)order of today, characterized by uncertainty, inequality, violence and terror, democratization remains one of the few hopeful and positive trends in contemporary politics. The sustained attempts to subject government to popular control, make states work in ways that favour the broad mass of the people and extend citizenship have sometimes — though not always — made enormous differences to the lives of ordinary people. Indeed, there is little doubt that the past four decades have witnessed, in general terms, the dramatic and stunning spread of democracy in some form or another to almost every corner of the globe. This is undeniably a remarkable development. Yet it is equally clear, as we shall see Fin the chapters that follow, that democratization is also a difficult and long-term process (or, more accurately, series of processes) which does not always succeed; demands for it can lead to bloodshed, suffering, displacement, exile and human loss without eradicating authoritarianism.
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Matthew Louis Bishop
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