Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Democratic Dominoes in the Middle East

I am very hopeful about the possibility of a good "domino effect" producing a series of democratic states in the Middle East. Egypt is the most hopeful, with Tunisia close behind. Yemen is imaginable, though a long shot. The new nation of South Sudan, or whatever it will be called, is likely to at least to attempt to begin as a democracy.

Some friends to my right politically are worried that people in that region are not culturally ready for democracy, and fear that removing useful dictators will create a power vacuum for something worse. This is, of course, a real possibility, as Somalia shows. Nonetheless, I am very hopeful about a democratic movement that begins in massive, peaceful street protests, supported by a varied (and competing) set of opposition groups.

Other people on the news have been worried that free elections might bring to power people we do not like. Liz Cheney, who supported the Palestinian elections in 2006, now thinks they were a mistake because they brought to power a group she does not like. I think this position is based on a legitimate fear, but also on a basic misunderstanding of democracy. There is no contradiction in a democratic nation electing a government that opposes other democratic nations, including opposing the United States. Indeed, if the U.S. has supported a dictatorship that prevented democracy, we should expect that the first free government would be anti-American.

Democratic governments, though, tend to moderate over time and to get along with others. This does not even take very long; the knowledge that another election is coming soon moderates extremists now. In general, democracy is good for peace, freedom, and prosperity. The people tend not to elect governments that keep repressing them. The people tend not to elect governments that make big wars which require popular sacrifice and interfere with trade. If there were a wave of democratic revolutions in the Middle East, it is likely that some of the first governments would be anti-American, and some would be more strongly Muslim (these are not at all the same thing). Even so, I believe the U.S. should support the democracy movements in the Middle East, and in all Muslim lands. This will create more moderate states that are less repressive of their own people, less threatening to Israel and the West, and better partners to the U.S.

8 comments:

Iggy said...

My concern especially in Muslim countries is that a party gets elected then afterward stops future elections. It is easy to be for democratic elections when you are out of power.

Gruntled said...

I agree that elected regimes that suspend future elections are a real worry. I don't think this is any worse in Muslim countries than in, say, Venezuela. We should push them all to be and stay democracies.

Iggy said...

Venezuelans are not blowing up things and people in the name of their God, too many Muslims are. That is the point of my concern. Facts are some dictatorships are worse than others.

Whit said...

Chavez' socialist policies are ruining Venezuela's economy, and he is causing all kinds of trouble around Latin America, particularly in Columbia where he is supporting the Marxists. Not a model I'd like for anyone to emulate.

That being said, there's little we can do at this late date in Egypt except make things worse. The best result is probably that Egypt's military will, like Turkey's but unlike Pakistan's become a secular guardian of the State and keep things from going too far wrong until civil society institutions can develop. Perhaps Egypt's military will see what the current (Islamic) government of Turkey is doing to its military and things won't go too badly.

BTW, South Sudan is neither Arab nor Muslim so it doesn't really belong in your dominos.

But on an emotional level, it's hard not to sympathize with the folks in the streets in Cairo and wish them the best. Democracy is not genetic or it would not work in the US, but it is cultural. I had little doubt about the result in Poland, but Egypt is another matter. On the other hand, resisting democracy can only be temporary, and got us to the place we're in now.

My last comment is that democracy, that is majority rule, is not everything. Economic freedom, protection of minority rights, rule of law, etc. can be of even more importance. But yes, all other things being the same, democracy is better than tyranny.

Anonymous said...

Let's don't count our chickens...

Whitey Lawful said...
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Whitey Lawful said...
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Whitey Lawful said...

The mid-east--free from foreign influence -- will not dismantle themselves for a Western ideal of being moderate. Extremism is a culture that refuses to kill itself -- for your deathly compromised ways.