Friday, 21 March 2008

Spreading Democracy in The Middle East: Why It Won't Work

More on the rather depressing situation across the other side of the world, I'm afraid. There was an article in The Guardian, going back about a month now, reporting on comments by Miliband the foreign secretary regarding the UK's moral duty to intervene to spread democracy in the Middle East(among other places).
I agree that we should try our hardest to improve the lot of people in other countries as I hjave already made clear in other posts, eg "Britain on Gay Executions in Iran" and "Do People Have The Right To Their Own Culture?". As I have already noted, to allow injustice just because it is happening in another country at the very least borders on xenophobia. "You were born gay in Iran, deal with it" is not a moral, nor fair attitude to have. And in a moral, fair world, the people would certianly have access to some sort of representative democracy where they can nominate a politician to represent them. Unfortunatly, I do not see how Western democracy can work in the Middle East at present.
Firstly, a little bit of history. Niether the UK nor Germany went from dictatorship to complete democracy. In the UK, historically only the rich men could vote, but in 1918 the Representation of The Peoples Act was passed which meant that men over 21 and women over 30 could vote also. In Germany, the structure of the government changed: in 1871 germany was unified and a parliament(Reichstag) was set up. However, although all men could vote, the Reichstag only had the power to veto legislation, it could not actually create it, and the Kaiser retained the true power. It was only after WWI that this changed.
What I am trying to say is that these western democracies were not established in their entirety overnight, and it is difficult to expect any different from the Middle East, particularly as the beliefs widespread there are much more conservative and fundamentalist than in 1900s Britain or Germany.

There are basically 4 ways that a country could become more democratic:
1. The leaders introduce it, usually under pressure from the populace;
2. The people overthrow the government and set up their own democracy;
3. International pressure, sanctions etc. force the leaders into introducing it;
4. War, overthrowing the previous government and instituting democracy.

Let us discuss each option in turn.
Option one I do not see as feasible. No dictator compltetly opts for democracy, there needs to be some sort of opposition from the people, and there just isn't over there.
As for option two, it also does not appear to be very likely. As in option one, there needs to be people(most likely organisations in this scenario) who want reform in the country in the first place. Let's think about what these people actually believe. the vast majority of them are fundamentalist Muslims, who completely and utterly believe in the words in the Koran. They believe in carrying out Allah's will and they believe that women should be subjugated, gays killed, apostates killed, etc.
Sam Harris has even more depressing news: "[M]any [...] have noted that as repressive as Arab dictators generally are, they tend to be more liberal than the people they oppress. The Saudi Prince Abdullah, for instance -- a man who has by no means distinguished himself as a liberal --recently proposed that women should be permitted to drive automobiles in his country. As it turns out, his greatly oppressed people would not stand for this degree of spiritual oppression, and the prince was forced to back down."(S. Harris, The End Of Faith p. 132 2005 The Free Press). No, I do not think Middle Eastern democracy will come from the people. Even if a group of people did manage to overthrow the govt and institute democracy they would struggle to hold power in such a fundamentalist environment, not to mention when people got to the polls they would just vote the despots beck into power.

That only leaves international interventionism.
Option 3: sanctions(such as economic isolation) imposed by other countries. This could improve the situation but it has its problems. One being that the despots are still in charge and thus can decide what democracy they institute, likely leading to sham democracy. It would probably be laborious to actually get fair representation. Becuase the despot still has power, they can manipulate their governemnt and it may well turn out corrupt. It's also possible that the dictator justignores the sanctions unless there is, again, pressure from the people to give into international demands due to their suffering.
Of course, there is always option four: War. ASnd this option would probably be the most successful one as we would be in control of the government and could institute proper democracy.

The main problem is actually with what happens after democracy, in my opinion. We have got to bear in mind what these people actually believe. If we open the polls to these people, who are they going to vote for? Some people appear to believe that if we open the polls to tyhese people, they will vote for the equivalent of secular Western liberals. It isn't going to happen. If we give these people freedom, they will vote to throw that freedom away. Think for a minute about the Christian Reconstructionists/Dominionists, the closest Christian equivalent Middle Eastern Islam. They have several freedoms -- free speech, abortion, the right to vote -- that they would get rid of in persuit of an American Theocracy. This is no different.

So if they vote, they will vote extremists back into power. This leaves us back where we started -- perhaps even worse off if we destroyed the country during a war as this would just make them loathe the West and western ideals even more.

So this is why I believe the ideal of democracy in the Middle East will not work at present.

But as I have already said, we should tryu and intervene to improve things -- and sadly I see only one long term solution: go to war with these countries, overthrow their governments, and institute some sort of liberal dictatorship enforced militarily. Only once we have shown them the benefits of freedom can we consider giving them any sort of democracy; only then would they vote to keep their freedom.

Pf course, there are other problems with these countries, notably human rights injustices which I believe can only be stopped in this manner. As I dscussed in a pervious post, the execution of gays in Iran for instance. Even if we put international pressure on the government to change this law, all that would happen would be a lot of DIY executions with the leaders turning a blind eye to it because they believe gay people should be killed. Of course, if we were in charge of their countries, we could prosecute anybody who murdered a gay person.

Obviously, this method would involve a lot of destruction. And obviously, it would not be as easy as I have portrayed here. I am not happy about this, but I see no other solution.


Anonymous said...

Found your theories interesting. Looks like your unlikely #2 is coming to pass. Is it possible that George Bush was actually right? Democracy is spreading in the Middle East as a result of Iraq? A year ago I would have laughed at the idea. Today, I'm sitting in stunned silence.

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