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One year after Egypt's revolution, dictators on the defensive

On the one-year anniversary of Egypt's uprising, the world is less free because dictators reacted to the Arab Spring. But at least now they are on notice, forcing the issue of democracy.

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Backsliding is still all too common. Ukraine and Hungary have toughened their hold on the opposition. Turkey is cracking down on the media, and even Israel is moving against some private activists.

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Fortunately, the Obama administration has shed its initial aversion to promoting democracy – an overreaction to the Bush-era “freedom agenda.” President Obama now sprinkles the word “democracy” in speeches. And a year ago, he finally came around to helping the Egyptians oust Hosni Mubarak and then allowing NATO to remove Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton toured Africa in what was a trip to honor recent strides toward democracy made on the continent. She also made a historic visit to Myanmar (Burma) to support a democratic opening there. In recent months, Mr. Obama’s envoys to Syria, China, and Russia have spoken out or acted forcefully for human rights in those countries, evoking a strong reaction from the regimes.

Of all the West’s “interests” in other countries, from trade to nuclear nonproliferation, none has better served peace and prosperity than the spread of democracy. And the West now can rely on democracies in different regions, such as Brazil, India, and Indonesia, to be partners in furthering a historic trend toward freedom.

One year on, the Arab Spring provides a new opportunity to plant more democracies while also preventing backsliding. The worst regimes are now on notice.

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