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Rise, fall, rise of dictators and democracy feature of the waves of history

“I'm very keen on having true freedom,” President Mohammed Morsi of Egypt recently declared in an interview with “Time” magazine, but his aggressive actions belie those words. The recently elected chief executive also just decreed emergency supremacy over the nation's courts, as a special assembly completed a draft national constitution.

The result has been widespread growing popular protests, but Morsi presses ahead in the face of attacks for moving toward an Islamist dictatorship. Liberal and Christian members of the ruling party walked out of the assembly, voting with their feet.

This occurs in the context of regional instability which involves combat between Israel and Hamas, revolution in Syria, related violence between that country and Turkey, and ongoing anxiety over Iran nuclear development. Egypt moreover plays a pivotal geopolitical role thanks to the Suez Canal, a vital world trade route.

In evaluating these events, historical context is especially important, and the scholarship of the late Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington is instructive. His most well-known book is the 1998 best-seller “Clash of Civilizations,” which argues our contemporary world is increasingly defined by intense conflicts between fundamentally different cultures.

However, another book by Huntington is more useful: “The Third Wave — Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century,” published in 1991, argues there has been a two-century trend of a global push toward democracy, interrupted by the resurgence of dictatorships.

The first wave was spurred by the American and French revolutions, and extended from the 1820s to the 1920s. The years after World War I brought antidemocratic reaction favoring varieties of communism and fascism. This in part reflected the unprecedented casualties and costs of that terrible war.

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