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In the Arab republics, progress will be unsteady; Tunisia remains democratic, but Egypt is far more repressive than under Mubarak, and Syria, Yemen, and Libya are chaotic. But the genie cannot be put back in the bottle. The Arab uprisings were a symptom of what Arab intellectuals diagnosed in 2002 in the Arab Human Development Report issued by the UN Development Programme. As they wrote then, “There is a substantial lag between Arab countries and other regions in terms of participatory governance. The wave of democracy that transformed governance in most of Latin America and East Asia in the 1980s and Eastern Europe and much of Central Asia in the late 1980s and early 1990s has barely reached the Arab States.” The problem, they wrote, was a “freedom deficit”. They argued that “Political participation in Arab countries remains weak, as manifested in the lack of genuine representative democracy and restrictions on liberties. At the same time, people’s aspirations for more freedom and greater participation in decision-making have grown, fueled by rising incomes, education, and information flows. The mismatch between aspirations and their fulfilment has in some cases led to alienation and its offspring — apathy and discontent.” They wrote a decade before the “Arab Spring” but can be said to have seen it coming.

What the Arab lands will need is what every state requires if there is to be peace and progress: a legitimate government. In the West, we view democracy as the source of legitimacy, but there are other possible sources: a legitimate monarchy, or effective government that provides a form of “performance legitimacy”. Worldwide surveys over the past few decades repeatedly showed, for example,  that the governments of the UAE and Singapore were viewed as effective by their citizens. Singapore now has a powerful combination of democratic and performance legitimacy, and the UAE of monarchic and performance legitimacy. For the Arab republics, lacking the vast mineral wealth of the Gulf states, some combination of performance legitimacy and democracy must be the goal, and if performance is lacking democratic legitimacy will be all they can rely on. If they do not have it, rulers must rule by brute force. In that situation of poor governance and great repression, we can be confident the Islamists will grow in popularity.

The idea that realpolitik counsels abandoning all efforts at democracy and protection of human rights in Arab lands is folly, and indeed is unrealistic. The dangers of Islamist extremism are great, but the defeat of the movement requires defeat of its ideas by more persuasive ideas, and requires legitimate governments to rule Arab states. Mere repression is a formula for instability and a perfect environment for Islamist extremism to grow. So for reasons of realpolitik as well as our own preferences for decent democratic rule, the struggle for democracy in the Arab Middle East should have our full support.
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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)

davidkwavnick
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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