Thursday, 10 February 2011

Democracy - a Western conceit?

Watching the news on the Egyptian and Tunisian 'revolutions' I am frequently struck by the enthusiastic Western news commentators who presume that the overthrow of a 'dictator' will automatically lead to a 'democratic' replacement in governance. Indeed, it runs far deeper, since the presumption among many Western politicians that 'Western Style Democracy' is a one size fits all and can be imposed upon diverse cultures and societies without any qualms. Then they always seem to be surprised when it doesn't work...

Already in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood have emerged and are shouting about creating an 'Islamic Republic' and a similar cadre are vying for power in Tunisia. I fully believe that these countries will soon be dragged into 'popularly' elected Islamic governments run by the Mullahs and their extremist supporters for the 'benefit' of Islam and the people will find themselves under a new form of restrictive and possibly more draconian regime.

Why do we expect to be able to impose a system which barely functions in the West? Whatever is popularly believed by the electorates of the West, we are in fact not truly democratic. Unless I vote for a 'winner' in the UK's 'first past the post' system, I might as well not vote. In some areas the 'tribal vote' will go to a particular party regardless of their performance or their broken promises and you could no more persuade one of those voters to use his head and vote for someone else, than you could persuade them to drink arsenic. In fact, the latter would probably be easier. Even if, despite the odds, there is a change of government as a result of the vote, it isn't really a change, since the same political class remain in power, the same civil servants actually dictate policy and run the country and the same coterie of Trade Union Bosses, Big City Investors and Industrialists benefit. There is no space on the ballot for "NONE OF THE ABOVE" which is what is needed if there is to be a true democracy.

Egypt has no democratic history. Oh, they voted at the elections, in fact, the majority actually voted for Mubarak and his ministers, but it wasn't really 'democratic' in that Mubarak's Party controlled the media and made sure they got the advertising. Yes, there were opposition parties, but intimidation, restricted access to the media and advertising - plus accusations of terrorism, extremism or links to something unsavoury soon sorts that out. Take a look at the 'democratic' states south of the Sahara. See any 'democracies there? Nearly all of them have the same problems, intimidation, vote rigging, corruption and the 'Tribal' vote...

Look East, Iran claims to be fully 'Democratic' and in a way, it is. Everyone can vote. Everyone does vote, which is more than can be said for over 40% of the UK populace, but it isn't Western Style democracy by a long shot. The candidates for any election there have to first be 'approved' by the Supreme Council and the Supreme Leader - an Ayatollah among a group of Ayatollahs who are not elected, but have the Constitutional Right to make or break the elected government. And the majority of Iranians believe that is the right way to do things.

No, I am not sanguine that there will be an improvement in the Egyptian or Tunisian people's lives anytime soon. I expect the Muslim Brotherhood to ultimately decide who will rule, and if it is someone they believe is right, then heaven help anyone who thinks there will be a less oppressive regime.

What do the Western Media and politicians expect? The dawning of a new age of enlightenment? The creation of a socially liberal paradise? No, I suspect they know what the outcome will be but dare not admit it. One thing I am certain of, is that these revolutions are not yet over. No revolution in history has produced a stable and non-violent government immediately, the example of the United States notwithstanding, though it perhaps settled down a lot more rapidly than most. It certainly sorted itself out in less time than the French did, but that is an almost unique situation. Revolutions tend to produce dictators and civil disobedience has dangerous consequences for everyone, not just those in power.

Civil unrest usually leads to economic collapse or at the least decay. Different groups struggling for power tend to break more than they fix and it always allows the opportunistic extremists to slip into positions of authority while everyone else is squabbling.

Mubarak and Ben Ali probably had to go, it remains to be seen who will replace them, but I very much doubt the outcome will be as rosey as the Western Media and politicians claim... Where there is no history or tradition of democracy, it cannot simply be planted and expected to flourish. There is a long and probably painful road ahead here.

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