The collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire in Eastern Europe created a real-world laboratory for spawning democracy. U.S. and Western advisors were sent to these countries to explain how to create electoral democracies. With its Sunday vote in favor of quick elections, Egypt is about to embark on what many hope will be its road to electoral democracy.
The results of the great wave of democratizations in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe appear encouraging at first glance. Fifteen of the twenty one countries today are classified by Freedom House as “free” or “partially free.” Two of these, Ukraine and Kirgizia, may lose this ranking in the near future. In any case, these statistics suggest an encouraging three-quarters probability of success in Egypt.
Upon closer examination, the picture is less encouraging. The countries that successfully democratized had characteristics that Egypt clearly lacks: They had a democratic tradition from the recent past (Hungary, Czech Republic, and Latvia), most of them were invited to become members of NATO or the European Union, or they had strong pro-democracy leaders (Poland, Lithuania).