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“Mere” repression, I would argue, is a poor antidote to Islamist sentiments and is likely to help the Islamists survive and win converts. Today’s Egypt is an object lesson. There are reported to be 60,000 political prisoners: people who have been jailed but never tried and convicted, or convicted of “offences” that would not be criminal in any free country, such as insulting the army or some such grotesquerie. There they rot, often in abusive conditions, and surrounded by true extremists who have also been jailed. What an excellent opportunity for the jihadis and Muslim Brothers to teach their beliefs, and to explain to the young prisoners why the injustice which has befallen them exists — and how it must be extirpated. Sisi’s prisons will be jihadi factories and his increasing repression will strengthen rather than weaken Islamist extremism over the long and even the medium run. For if the state uses violence to prevent any reform and any debate over the path of the country, who will be surprised when more Islamists turn to more violence?

None of this analysis suggests that the Arab lands are on the verge of a democratic “Great Leap Forward,” as the “Arab Spring” was initially thought to be. Each case is different — and it may well turn out that the Arab monarchies lead the way. That is, those regimes retain very substantial legitimacy in the eyes of their citizenry, and it is not an accident that no monarchy was overthrown in the “Arab Spring” revolts. In Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait, for example, parliaments exist, elections are held, and the monarchs are both arbiters of the political system and players in it. Evolution toward constitutional monarchy is neither assured nor impossible; with wise leadership, stability and further political openings are plausible. And because the monarch is always head of the armed forces, chaos can be prevented and order maintained.

The Saudi situation presents another variation. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appear intent on modernising the economy and the society, and have concluded that the risks arising from such actions require a fierce concentration of political power in their own hands. Opposition will not be permitted, as the arrests of so many princes and other notables demonstrate. At least for a long time, political liberalisation is absolutely out. But one wonders: won’t the strains of modernisation eventually require the rulers to seek some manifestation of public approval? If rich and powerful royal princes and merchant princes oppose Mohammed bin Salman, won’t he have to find support somewhere — perhaps even among the people, who want to see less corruption and more economic opportunity? Perhaps — but for now, the Saudis (and Emiratis) see themselves in a tough confrontation with Iran and plan no political opening whatsoever. Their defenestration of Lebanon’s prime minister Saad Hariri, who had previously had their support, is another example of their insistence that opposition to Iran will top any other considerations. Hariri was leading a coalition government that included Hezbollah, and the Saudis found that intolerable as their clash with Iran has escalated.
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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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