Welcome to the Weekly Brief from Democracy Lab, Foreign Policy's new online project devoted to the story of societies attempting to make the difficult transition from authoritarianism and closed economies to democracy and openness. A unique journalistic collaboration between FP and the Legatum Institute, Democracy Lab pursues this story through a genuinely global prism. Our coverage includes our new Transitions blog, a collective report from countries all along the spectrum of change, as well as case studies, in-depth investigations, and topical reporting - all aimed at illuminating the day-to-day complexities of this constantly evolving story.
Now for our take on the week's events:
The story in Burma (Myanmar) gets more interesting by the day. Last week's release of political prisoners has Western governments wondering whether it's time to ease up on sanctions. During a meeting with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma early in the week, U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell hinted that Washington might be prepared to reconsider its stance if reforms continue while emphasizing that the U.S. will follow Aung San Suu Kyi's lead on the matter. (For the moment, she and her fellow activists say that the government hasn't done enough to merit a relaxation of the West's bans on dealings with the regime.) By contrast, President Thein Sein, in an interview with The Washington Post, urged the West to lift sanctions now. He also said that he'd be willing to consider Aung San Suu Kyi for a government post if she wins a seat in parliamentary by-elections in April.
The Arab Awakening continues to offer a mixed picture. An IMF delegation visited Cairo without coming to an agreement on an envisioned $3.2 billon loan to boost that country's struggling economy; the two sides promised to continue the talks in February. Yemenis are preparing for next month's presidential election next month amid controversy over a proposed "immunity bill" that would protect current President Ali Abdullah Saleh from prosecution if he agrees to cede power. And in Syria, where dozens of activists appear to be dying in clashes with government forces each week, opposition forces succeeded in gaining tenuous control over the town of Zabadani, on the border with Lebanon.
Elsewhere, Bangladeshis awoke to the news that their government had foiled an attempted coup back in December. In Nigeria, President Goodluck Jonathan backed down on his campaign to end popular fuel subsidies but showed ominous signs of an inclination to retaliate against protestors.
Finally, the annual Freedom House report on the state of democracy counted Ukraine, Hungary, and South Africa among countries that have shown signs of backsliding on fundamental freedoms.
The Latest from FP
Charles Villa-Vicencio explains how the experience of South Africa's truth and reconciliation process could help the countries of the Arab Awakening.
Sheldon Garon argues that Chinese save a lot because their government has created institutions that provide corresponding incentives.
Christian Caryl makes the case that the recent victory for Malaysia's opposition undermines the arguments of authoritarian rulers around the region.
Min Zin offers an update on sanctions against Burma.
Transitions is the group blog of the Democracy Lab channel, a collaboration between Foreign Policy and the Legatum Institute.