Democracy Question Remains Amid 'Arab Spring'

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Nearly one year has passed since demonstrations in Tunisia led to the overthrow of the country's dictator and democratic elections.

Tunisians are pleased that their revolution has inspired others throughout North Africa and the Middle East.

But with uprisings in places like Egypt, Yemen and Syria, the question remains of whether the revolution result in democracy or radical Islamic rule.

This fall, the moderate Islamist Enhada Party won a plurality of votes for Tunisia's new parliament. It has pledged to support secularism and democracy.

Moderate Islamists also won recent elections in Morocco. Secularists in that country say they'll have to wait and see if the new government will be committed to democracy.

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party -- the best organized political party in Egypt is expected to win a series of elections and gain control of parliament in that north African country.

Some Egyptians suggest they prefer Islamic law over democracy.

"She say she doesn't want someone to tell her to take off her niqab when she goes to college. Her main goal she says, is Shariah law," an interpreter translating the woman's response into English.

Are Islam and democracy compatible?

Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. national security advisor, said Islamic countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have embraced democracy. He suggested Arab countries may too, if they adjust their culture.

In Syria, what started as demonstrations last spring has now turned into an all out civil war. The Free Syrian Army appears to be growing in force. Abrams says the Assad regime's days are numbered.

"I think the regime is doomed, but unfortunately it isn't doomed fast enough," Abrams predicted. "Before the end comes which I suspect will be sometime next year, you can see a lot more people killed."

And the fall of the Assad regime -- Iran's only Arab ally -- would be unwelcome news in Tehran.

"For years and years now it's looked as if Iran is the rising power. To lose Syria would all of a sudden suggest it has stopped. This rise of Iran, the growing Iranian influence in the whole region, maybe it's peaked and maybe we can turn it around now," Abrams suggested.

Nina Shea, a human rights lawyer and a member of the U.S. Commission for International Freedom, worries about the rise of an extreme form of Islam in the region and its affect on Christians.

"I think that the last greatest hope for these people and for religious freedom is the United States government," she said. "I don't think the U.S. government gets it. I don't think the administration understands, is informed or cares."

Shea said the U.S. needs to use the political and economic leverage it has to pressure emerging democracies in the Arab world to protect Christians and other religious minorities.

In the case of Egypt, that leverage is U.S. dollars. Washington sends the Egyptian military about $1.2 billion annually.

"We're funding them. We're going to continue to fund them. We've got to get something in return," Shea said.

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