Is Democracy Now Spreading Though the Middle East?

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It would be easy to get excited about the recent uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen and Libya and interpret them as signs that democracy is now spreading through the Middle East, but that would be premature. In fact, it could be argued that the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak and the increased governmental involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood will prophesy exactly the opposite.

A Broader Picture

It wasn’t really all that long ago that Iran had a democratic government. In 1980 it was overthrown by the Khomeini regime which remains largely in power today. Although the current government will protest that President Ahmadinejad was elected fairly, reports of extensive election fraud accompanied his rise to power. Which, unfortunately, raises the question of whether or not most of the Middle East is actually ready for democracy?

As recently as 2003 Patrick Basham of the CATO Institute wrote in his paper ‘The Trouble with Democracy In the Middle East’ that ”the Middle East lacks the conditions, such as a democratic political history, high standards of living, and high literacy rates, which stimulated democratic change in, for example, central Europe and East Asia. Ironically, many Arab countries are ruled by authoritarian leaders who are more liberal than the citizenry they lead.”

What does that mean? Frankly, don’t hold your breath.

Is Democracy Necessary?

While in the west, particularly in the United States, it is felt that democracy is the superior form of government, it should be pointed out that it is not the only form of rule that allows for personal freedoms and civil liberties. In most of the Middle East strength is generally more valued than free speech. To build the necessary precursors to a successful democracy will take decades, if not generations. Imposing democracy on people who have no understanding of what is actually involved would be, at best, risky.

Much of the population in the Middle East remains locked in a lifestyle not much more advanced than citizens of Europe’s middle Ages. Feudal governments, religious law and widespread illiteracy have worked to keep the average individual repressed and powerless. Just as you would not give a toddler a lighter and ask that they start a campfire, it is foolish to expect such a population to embrace democracy.

The protests may be a good sign, but it is really too early to know how they will affect the region. As a precursor to democracy, they are unlikely to yield anything.

Michael Rupkalvis owns the Transaction group. The Transaction Group offers wireless credit card terminals and other credit card merchant account solutions for all types of businesses.

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