A great good thing may be happening in the world. Massive movements against dictatorship and for democracy have broken out in Egypt and Tunisia. Anti-dictator protesters are in the street in Yemen. Polite crowds pushing for parliamentary monarchy are on the move in Jordan. Massive street protests for free elections were suppressed recently in Iran, but the sentiment has not been crushed. The one great example of democracy in a Muslim nation, Turkey, has seen a Muslim party come to power without destroying democracy or the secular state.
The most encouraging thing to me about these movements is that they are led by local leaders of civil society organizations, who have grown up in uneasy independence from the state. There are, of course, dangerous people, secular and religious, who want to exploit this unrest. People just like them are in power now. But the crowds in the streets have been surprisingly disciplined. They seem focused on getting the bad regime out, and creating a legitimately elected regime in its place. What happens after that is up to the course of normal politics.
The second most encouraging thing to me has been the restraint and quiet positive nudges from the world powers. The U.S. and European governments seem to be helping the democracy movement, as much by staying out the way as by not propping up the dictators. The Russians, Japanese, and Indians seem not to be making things worse. The Chinese have been hiding the pro-democracy story from their people, not surprisingly, but so far have made no openly disruptive moves.
If there were a wave of democratic movements in the Muslim heartland the world would be a better place.