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In 2013, nothing more important than protecting hopes for democracy

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The unfolding experience in three countries – Egypt, Myanmar (Burma), and Malawi – highlights the importance, and difficulty, of getting the right mix of soil and water.

If the revolution falters in the Arab world's most populous country – Egypt – it may well be because of not enough public buy-in.

Emerging from six decades of authoritarian rule, the country quickly developed a lively discourse in the public square. But the constitutional process, culminating recently in a national referendum, was imbalanced toward the ruling party and its Islamist allies. The Supreme Administrative Court had dissolved the body charged with drafting the new national charter for being unrepresentative. When the panel was reconstituted, similar charges quickly emerged. The constitution passed the popular referendum with 64 percent in favor; but voter turnout was low, only 33 percent, and the run-up to the ballot was marked by boycotts and street protests.

A vital opportunity to engender credibility was needlessly jeopardized.

Myanmar, long one of the most sealed-off countries on earth, is making credible strides toward democracy after decades of harsh military rule. Celebrated opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was held under house arrest for 15 of the 20 years prior to her release in 2010, was elected to the national legislature last April. That election was monitored by foreign observers and media enjoying the freest access to the country in years.

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