The hopes of the Arab Spring have, for some of the world's most established democracies, given way to a Summer of Despair.

Riots in Britain. Crippling European debt burdens from Greece to Spain. In India, a deluge of corruption scandals that have crippled the world's largest democracy as it faces widespread malnutrition and a desperate need for land reform.

And let President Barack Obama sum up the recent scene in a United States burdened by a cruel economy, immense debts and often-surreal political bickering that nearly led the nation into default:

"Lord knows we still have a dysfunctional political system in Washington," he said at a recent fundraiser.

As grass-roots protests aimed at toppling authoritarian rulers sweep the Middle East, dysfunction has become the norm in much of the democratic world, where governments struggle with bankruptcy, violence and political paralysis from Washington to Rome to New Delhi.

Democracy, of course, is a messy business. When everyone has the freedom to speak their mind, politics is naturally a struggle of conflicting views.

But it's been a particularly messy year. Few were surprised when protests turned violent in Greece, where street battles have a long history. But no one expected the widespread eruption of violence that swept Britain, much of it apparently aimless looting and mayhem.

These days, the democratic bulwarks provide little but glaring contrast to those demanding freedom in the Arab world.

"It seems that just as those nations demand the tools of democracy, we are finding them rusting and blunt in our hands," said Britain's Guardian newspaper.

The year began with protests that ended the 23-year, iron-fisted dictatorship of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Days later, as the contagion of hope spread to Egypt, Tahrir Square began filling with demonstrators, eventually leading to the downfall of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. From there, the cries for freedom kept going: Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Syria and even — very quietly and very briefly — to China.

While the fight against authoritarian rule continues in the Arab World, the early hopes of its spring have not always come true. Some dictators — in Libya, Bahrain and Syria, most notably — have turned to openly brutal repression to try to quash the opposition. Other countries are mired in political bickering.

But as thousands of protesters still risk their lives to demand democracy across the Middle East, the world's most established democracies are struggling with their worst year in a generation.

"There's a feeling (in the West) that something has gone fundamentally wrong," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. "At least in places like Egypt and Tunisia, there's a sense of 'We're all in this together.'"

"Arabs have realized they don't have to wait for the U.S. (or other powers to bring about change). ... They are the ones who can take matters into their own hands and say: 'We've had enough, we're not going to wait anymore,'" he said.

Eventually, it could even be enough to reshape global politics; if a resurgent Arab world was able to at least partially displace the now-dominant democracies.

Certainly the London riots, where many people were simply looking for something to steal, seemed to herald a culture with deep problems.

While some of the violence occurred in poor, troubled neighborhoods, the accused in Britain include a university graduate, a teenage ballerina and a college student from a prosperous commuter town.

It's been enough to lead to gloating elsewhere in the world.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose forces crushed a pro-democracy uprising in his own country two years ago, called for the U.N. Security Council to take action over the British riots. A Syrian diplomat compared the pro-democracy protests that have shaken that dictatorship to the looting in British cities.

In Malaysia, where police responded to a recent rally for electoral reform with tear gas, water cannons and more than 1,600 arrests, a top security official saw the British violence as vindication.

The British riots were "nightmares that we are fighting hard to avoid and prevent," deputy national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said in a statement. "Praise to God, we are able to avoid these scary and tragic scenes from erupting here in our beloved country."

So why the contrast? Why are wealthy democracies struggling with myriad troubles while some of the world's most repressed people are fearlessly challenging despotic rulers?

Perhaps it's because those wealthy democracies aren't quite so wealthy anymore.

The past few years have laid bare many of the financial sins of the West: the excessive loans, the lax government oversight, the hidden budget deficits.

Where America looked like an unbeatable financial power just a few years ago, today's economists are waiting for the day when it is eclipsed by China.

Still, it may be too soon to herald democracy in the Arab world, or lament the sorry state of the West.

"Democratic countries — and this includes Israel — have serious policy problems," said Shlomo Avineri, a political science professor and former director of Israel's foreign ministry. But "they do not have problems relating to their democracy. Democracy is about how to address those problems without violence and by governments responsible to an electorate."

So while the established democracies have their troubles — their riots, their debts, their political wrangling — at least they also have democracy.

Tim Sullivan reported from New Delhi. Amy Teibel in Jerusalem and AP Business Writer Adam Schreck in Dubai and contributed to this report.