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This is a shallow argument, for several reasons. First, the reason Islamist extremists can win at that point is not some inevitable popularity of their views but the conditions imposed by the dictators. They crush the centre,  deliberately, seeing moderate groups as a threat to their argument to the United States and other Western nations that “it’s me or the Brotherhood!” They see moderate groups as potentially dangerous rivals for public support as well. By closing the political system they leave moderates nowhere to organise, while Islamists conspire secretly in the mosques. By excluding Islamists from power and persecuting them, the regimes give them a halo — a reputation for integrity and dedication.

So when the regime collapses, the Islamists are the best- organised groups, and they often do win the first election. We saw this in Egypt and Tunisia, and have seen it in Asia as well. But they cannot sustain that support, as we also saw in Egypt and Tunisia, and countries such as Indonesia. That is because they actually cannot govern. Their plans amount to “Islam is the answer,” but it certainly is not the answer to the problem of creating jobs or new housing or higher incomes. Their halos come off fast as they are subject for the first time to the temptations that come with power, and they succumb. In other words, it is reasonable to fear that Islamists will win the initial election after the regime falls, but experience suggests that their victory will not be permanent. This is the second key point: it is wrong to think that democracy means permanent Islamist rule.

Third, and critically, the argument that dictators are the best bulwark against Islamist victories is also wrong. This is because Islamism, whether armed or unarmed, is a set of ideas about how the state should be governed, how God wants society to be ordered, and how we should conduct ourselves in public life. Every Muslim country will have to debate whether those ideas are in fact sensible and true to the Koran, or are heretical, inhuman, and unworkable. The point is, policemen and soldiers can never win that debate. They can jail or shoot Islamists, but they can never defeat them and win the debate because they themselves have no ideas. What ideas, after all, did Ben Ali or Mubarak have to offer young citizens? They stood for family rule in fake republics, for immense theft of public funds, and for repression of freedom. It is no wonder that they could not defeat Islamism.

For that to be achieved, better and more persuasive ideas must be proferred — and that requires politics, and debate, and freedom of thought and speech. The last two decades in Turkey provide an object lesson. There, Necmettin Erbakan and his pro-Islamist Welfare Party won the elections of 1996, but the military overthrew him and the party was banned in 1998. It was then reborn as the Virtue Party in 1998, and that party was banned in 2001. It was again reborn, this time as the Justice and Development Party or AKP, which won a landslide victory in 2002. The point is that the coups and the banning of Islamist parties did nothing to undermine support for the Islamist cause. Indeed, one can argue that the coups undermined support for Kemalist parties; they certainly provided no intellectual or spiritual arguments against the Islamists.
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AnonymousDavid Kwavnick
December 7th, 2017
8:12 PM
The Arab world will never establish viable democracies, That privilege is reserved to the countries whose philosophical basis is in the Enlightenment. That is where the principles of democracy originate. The only countries capable of establishing viable democracies are those of the Anglosphere and Weatern Europe (except Iberia)

December 7th, 2017
4:12 PM
Democracy can flourish in only a small number of countries - those whose national ideological basis is in the enlightenment. That's the Anglosphere and western Europe not including Iberia (which never had an enlightenment) Democracy is the most extremely secular political ideology possible.

Bernard Clabots
December 5th, 2017
10:12 AM
I really cannot agree with this view. All that the Arab countries need is that we, and especially the warmongers of USA leave them alone decide for their own fate. I'm so fed up of democracy this democracy that. Democracy in the western world has regressed dramatically, and we would be lecturing others? Look at Trump, a constitutionally elected president, with no less a majority than his predecessors. Look at what the establishment has been doing... They boycott anyway they can. They overpass their mandate, and see the support they receive in the media, I wouldn't be surprise there is some financial interest behind. Look at Europe, and the position of the German Government vs the vote of their representative. Look at the popular will and the decision taken to validate Monsanto, just days before Bayer took it over... Look at how people like Macron get elected, with massive support from the media industry and the "self-righteous" few. Who are we to criticize? Look at how a referendum where not even 1/3 of the population participated in Catalonia is validated by the media and how the crimean one would be labelled illegal... Look at splitting Serbia and splitting Syria/Irak is OK, but not splitting Ukraine, Georgia... Are we the ones to lecture others? Especially you, the USA citizens who fund the American Bully with almost a trillion dollars (US army). You talk about supporting democracy? I call this meddling. Leave us alone with your poisonous help. Democracy doesn't need any help. And you write that the Muslim extremists demonstrated they could not manage the country in Tunisia and Egypt???? Popular leaders were deposed by armed coups they didn't have a chance to fail... Please... Stop bullshitting the world, right? Start helping democracy in your satellites like KSA, and when you'll be successful, you'll train us on the howto. I was in Tunisia under the Dictatorship. It was a safe place. Women were free to smoke and walk the streets. Today, I wouldn't. UAE and KSA have legitimate governments? Based on slavery and negation of women basic rights. It's a shame to write this kind of article. Suddenly the US administration was favouring peaceful coups, preserving institution, and the "arab spring" was spontaneous. Let me laugh.

Lawrence James
December 5th, 2017
10:12 AM
Democracies require stability which autocratic regimes provide: in many parts of the world personal safety takes precedence over having a vote. This is understandable, less so is the assumption that Western systems are innately superior and offer the only pathway to human happiness.

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