Can the Middle East be Democratic?


A view which is common across the political spectrum in the West, and common to people across the globe, is that the Middle East cannot, or should not, be democratic; that attempts by the West to impose democracy by force, or to encourage it through other means have been a disaster; and that the democratic forces which have mobilised via the Arab Spring have led to chaos.

This view is based on three main arguments:

  1. Democracy is culturally a Western concept, based on Western norms and traditions, and cannot be transplanted to another culture. It follows that it is either arrogant to assume that other cultures should be democratic, or that Western culture is superior because it is democratic.
  2. The nature of the Middle East, in particular the political ideology of Islam, is not conducive to democracy. This is argued both by those opposed to Islam, who have studied its teachings and its history and have concluded that Islam and democracy do not mix; and by many Muslims themselves, who argue that the political system should be based on Islamic Shariah Law, which is superior to democracy.
  3. The complex mix of histories, rivalries and hatreds which exist in the Middle East mean that without strong rulers, ie, dictators, Middle Eastern countries will always be in a state of civil war.

imageThere are strong arguments for and against these points of view, and I will discuss them, and a solution to the conundrum, in part 2, which will be released later this week. What I want to highlight in this article is the contradiction in policy, and some of the hypocrisy in thinking, which surrounds this issue.

Central to all three arguments is that it is the people of the Middle East, and the political and religious ideology to which they adhere, which is the reason why the Middle East cannot be at peace, let alone democratic. It follows that if you believe that the Middle East cannot be democratic, then the people of the Middle East could not live democratically in the West. It follows that the mass migration of people from the Middle East to the West will be harmful to democracy in the West.

If you believe that the Middle East cannot be democratic, and that the people of the Middle East should not be allowed in the West, I may disagree with you, but at least your thinking is consistent. What is inconsistent is the idea that the Middle East cannot be democratic, but its people can come to the West and live democratically.

You cannot hold to the idea that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, tolerant, and want to enjoy the fruits of democracy in the West, but oppose the imposition of democracy in the Middle East, by force if necessary, because what if democracy is not the best way to run a country, and who are we to impose Western values…

You cannot support the idea of a dictator, (who has murdered Western citizens by downing civilian airliners, invaded its neighbours and blackmailed Europe economically,) helping another dictator, (who has used WMD to murder his own citizens,) to bring “stability” to a country riven by ethnic and political rivalries, and then argue for the people of that country to be allowed into the West and expect them to thrive democratically.

You either support the idea that the West should intervene in countries of the Middle East to establish democracy by force, and/or to defend the democratic movements which, without support, would be easily massacred, AND support the idea that some people from the Middle East can come to the West, because they want democracy;

Or you hold that the Middle East cannot be democratic, and you oppose the idea of people from the Middle East coming to the West, because it is the people of the Middle East who make it impossible for the Middle East to be democratic.

What we have currently is the worst of both worlds. Our political leaders are too weak to take the strong political and military action that will bring democracy to the Middle East. Many people in the West are loathe to support the necessary action to achieve democracy in the Middle East, and actually believe that it is our own action in the Middle East which has impeded democracy there. Thus, we find ourselves in a situation where, to stop the influx of migrants from the Middle East to the West, we are allowing, tacitly, one undemocratic tyrant to support another undemocratic tyrant, to destroy democratic forces in the heart of the Middle East, under the pretext that they are bombing the worst of the Middle East’s dictators.

Anyone who believes that this will stop the massive flow of migrants from the Middle East into the West, quickly approaching a million annually, has rocks in their head.

Both morally and strategically, we are at one of the lowest ebbs in modern Western history. We have reached this point because we have given up on the belief that we have the right to intervene to secure Western interests, let alone defend democracy, and that such action will be successful. This belief is 100% wrong, and I will tackle it in part 2 of this article.

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David has studied history and political science at Melbourne University. His thesis was written on how the utilisation of Missile Defence can help to achieve nuclear disarmament. His interest in history was piqued by playing a flight simulator computer game about the Battle of Britain, and he hopes to one day siphon the earnings from his political writings into funding the greatest prog-rock concept album the world has ever seen.