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Yemen election hints at Arab Spring's deeper meaning

A popular vote Tuesday in Yemen appears to mark the fall of the fourth dictator in the Arab Spring. But in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and now Yemen, the post-dictator problems show why each Arab must embrace democratic ideals.

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A man shows his inked thumb after casting a vote in Sanaa Tusday. Yemenis voted to rubber-stamp their US-backed vice president as the new head of state tasked with steering the country toward democracy.

Hani Mohammed/AP

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A year ago, a popular vote in Yemen to end a dictator’s rule would have been hailed as another triumph of the Arab Spring.

But that was not the case on Tuesday for Yemen’s election to endorse a new president – even though the event marks an end to the longtime rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh and the start of a shaky transition toward democracy.

The people of Yemen have learned – as have Arabs in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya – that simply removing a strongman does not make a democratic revolution.

In each of these four countries, the post-dictator period has been difficult, even chaotic, violent, and uncertain. Many of the former regime’s cronies or security forces remain entrenched. Antidemocratic Islamists wait in the wings. Tribal divisions undermine unity. And the economic woes drag on.

What really matters, says Wael Ghonim, a leader of Egypt’s revolution a year ago, is that individuals continue to operate from the strength of mental freedom, throwing off any fear and acting together.

“Inside many of us, it was already over,” he said. As a result, the revolution would have had to happen.

Mr. Ghonim was the Google executive who quietly set up a Facebook page that galvanized Egyptians into organized, peaceful protests against Hosni Mubarak. He spent two weeks in jail for his techno-activism. He is now on a worldwide tour to promote his memoir, “Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People Is Greater Than the People in Power.”

The book serves as a reminder that democratic revolutions are as much about eternal ideas being spread heart to heart as they are about protests and ballot boxes.

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