Middle East Comment from a Traveling Journo

Ready, Steady…..DEMOCRACY!

Isn’t it just wonderful being western?! For so long we’ve all been dying to get those crazy non-western type folk to wake up and realise how much better off they’d be with our life model – and now the battle for democracy is on throughout the Middle East. Another triumph for democracy! At last, the world has come to its senses.

Egypt and Tunisia – you’ve made it onto the list. Congratulations! We knew you could do it. We’ll put a tick against your names. Meanwhile a whole host of other nations have yet to make the leap. No ticks for you guys. Not yet. One day – like us – your people will be able to wake up each morning, breath in and say ‘hey, you know what, I really feel like a good bit of western democracy today.’

This is the kind of mentality that has gripped the international community. We are obsessed with our democracy and their tyranny. It allows us to bunch all these countries into one convenient category. The Cote d’Ivoire and Syria – countries bursting to be ‘democratic’.

Mohamad Bouazizi didn’t set himself alight because he had mighty visions of instituting a revolutionary democratic state. He did it because he’d had enough of the daily humiliation and degradation he was subjected to at the hands of government agents. We have this obsession in Europe with thinking that people in countries not quite like ours must spend their days discussing politics, writing manifestos, contemplating just how un-democratic they are. That’s just not true. From Dagenham to Damascus, people have very common concerns about things that affect them directly.

People have come out onto the streets all over the region because they want a better way of life, a better standard of living, a better future. They have come out to tackle issues that affect them on a very local level – corruption, police brutality, lack of opportunity.

Yes, reforming the system is what needs to be done to tackle these things, but lets not cram all these protests into one over-arching cry for ‘democracy,’ because that ignores the very particular nuances evident in each country.

It ignores the actual grievances, which is the most damaging effect of pushing for a carbon copy ‘western’ system. Make the superficial change to ‘democracy’ and all those issues remain. They become legitimized, if anything, and subsumed into the ‘new’ system.

It’s a question of timing. Democracy doesn’t just happen. It’s not ours to ‘give’ either, and when we’ve tried it totally lacks legitimacy. It’s on a continuum and we’re all working towards it.

If democracy does come to these countries, it should be seen as a result of reform, not the motivation that drives it. And it won’t happen tomorrow.


Filed under: Middle East

One Response

  1. Democratic transition is always difficult and it obviously won’t happen overnight. The next 10-20 years will be interesting because the entire Middle East will go through a democratic transition. The revolutions happening now are the first steps in a much longer process.

    Make no mistake: Arab peoples want democracy. It may not be identical to Western democracy but as long as it establishes rule of law and public accountability then it’s a positive change.

    Never underestimate the hunger for freedom in the Arab world.

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Middle East Comment from a Travelling Journo

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