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Democracy in the Middle East - Martha Carr

This has been the winter of the Middle Eastern discontent.

First, the people of Tunisia rose up as a group and demanded the right to determine their future, and then, right behind them came the citizens of Egypt, who shrugged off 30 years of a military ruler who was robbing their coffers of billions of dollars for his own private pleasures.

Other countries in the Middle East, such as Jordan, Yemen and Syria that have autocratic rule or even outright dictatorships, whether it's through the military, royalty or a faux religious rule, are becoming increasingly alarmed that the jig is up.

They're right; it is over, because once a group of citizens has experienced self-rule, it takes bloodshed to go back to any other system.

It's one thing to wonder what it would be like to choose what life will look like, but not really know if even the act of trying would make things worse. It's another to try it out and see that democracy is viable and has unexpected rewards.

Citizens even begin to dream of what life may become for the next generation.

The old rule dictated that a lot would be done to benefit a few, which meant that the majority were going to be out of luck for an entire lifetime. The new style of leadership says that with some hard work and some willingness, anything is possible.

We become the instruments of our own change.

In the past, though, democratic revolution generally took some bloodshed and a couple of times, a world war, but even that has changed due to new technology, and has left the rest of us to marvel at what might come next.

Social networking that was started as a means to meet girls or sell widgets has become something unexpected, and has transmitted to others who have a similar background, but can't travel across borders a viable model of democracy.

Even now, young protesters in Egypt are sending messages to people they've never met in nearby countries to give them tips on how to pull off the same peaceful overthrow of some distant ruler.

The recipients are getting a unique blueprint that fits the region of how they can create a democratic state and rule themselves. That may not have been something that a western country could have created, and may finally be a way the U.S. can peacefully pull out of the region without leaving a giant mess in our wake.

The new wave of democracy, Middle Eastern style, started with young people who had witnessed a form of democracy somewhere else and wanted some version of it for their own people.

They spread the idea through social media and set up meetings and protests to figure out how it could work for them.

It's the 2011 version of Ben Franklin secretly running a small ink press and anonymously distributing pamphlets in the run-up to the American Revolution.

The intoxicating idea of democracy is finally spreading on a grand scale to a region of the world that has never really had the experience in all of its thousands of years of history. Each person, hopefully, both men and women, will have a chance to be heard and the majority of those who choose to vote will decide.

However, there are still a few more tricky steps to take so that the philosophy can get some real traction. The first elected officials have to be willing to step down if they aren't re-elected, and the citizens have to be willing to go and vote.

George Washington refused to keep running and recognized that people had to become used to choosing, over and over again, a new official who worked for the people.

Dictators operate off the opposite belief of entitlement that the majority supports the few.

There's also something in this new season for those of us who've only known a democratic lifestyle. The Middle Eastern experience is our opportunity to remember how a democracy survives, and change a lazy habit that has become entrenched in this country. In the U.S., during a presidential election year, just over half of the citizens that are eligible to vote even bother, such as in 2008 when it was 56.8 percent. During the mid-term elections, the numbers sink abysmally like they did in 2006, to 37.1 percent.

Instead of just patting ourselves on the back for preserving a form of democracy so that others may discover its fruits, maybe it's time we renewed our commitment to the fragile ideal and get out the vote. Imagine the possibilities.