PRESSURE SPEEDS THE PACE:

Why democracy stirs in Mideast: The factors behind the political opening from Baghdad to Beirut, and beyond. (Howard LaFranchi, 3/14/05, CS Monitor)

The letters came from the Committee on the Present Danger – an international group established to support the war against terror – and carried the imprimatur of such figures as former Secretary of State George Shultz and “Velvet Revolutionary” Vaclav Havel.

One letter invited Egyptian prisoner Ayman Nour, leader of the political opposition party Al Ghad, to join the organization. The other asked President Hosni Mubarak for permission to meet with the jailed leader.

On Saturday, under the mounting international pressure, Mr. Nour was released on bail.

This case represents another small opening in a series of momentous stirrings sweeping a region that has long seemed stuck under entrenched authoritarian regimes.

Why all the ferment? As the Egyptian case suggests, outside influences – in particular Bush policies pairing Arab reform with global security – are at least part of the explanation for the abrupt rise of democracy activism. But so, in a circuitous way, is Osama Bin Laden himself. So is the ripple effect of elections in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, and Ukraine.

And so, as experts on the region emphasize, are the many home-grown democracy advocates who have long laid the groundwork for an Arab bloom.

In the long run they can’t hold back the End of History. In the short run we can make it happen faster.

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