The best way to democracy is through democracy, argues a leading analyst.
“When Arab societies rose up and toppled four dictators during 2011—in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya—people around the world joined in the celebration. Yet soon after the autocrats’ fall, a wave of apprehension washed over many in the policy and intellectual elite in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East itself,” notes Stanford University’s Larry Diamond (left).
“The warnings and reservations were variations on a theme: Arabs are not ready for democracy,” he writes in the Wilson Quarterly:
They have no experience with it and don’t know how to make it work. Islam is inclined toward violence, intolerance, and authoritarian values. People will vote radical and Islamist parties into power and the regimes that ultimately emerge will be theocracies or autocracies, not democracies.
Such arguments had been heard before with respect to Asian values and Latin Catholicism as cultural impediments to democracy.
But these culturalist complaints have now “morphed into a second set of concerns,” says Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he directs the Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL):
This is not the right time to be pushing for democracy in the region, the complaint goes. Democratization in the Arab world could endanger the fragile peace between Israel and Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan. Or it could threaten American security partnerships in the war on terror. What restive Arab countries should be focusing on, and what the West should be encouraging, are political stability and economic development. Maybe someday, when they have a much larger middle class, democracy will be a safer, more viable option.
The Arab world’s pro-democracy revolts and movements have emerged at an unpropitious time, in so far as Western democracies are suffering crises of economy, legitimacy and confidence and authoritarian models of governance arguably present an appealing alternative, at least to some developing states.
“It is much too early to know the fate of the popular movements for freedom in the Arab world, and we should not minimize the continuing assault on movements for democracy and accountability in countries as diverse as Venezuela, Russia, and Iran,” notes Diamond, a founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy and a Senior Consultant to the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy:
Over the last decade there has been a slowly rising tide of democratic breakdowns, and more reversals could follow due to corruption and abuse of power by elected rulers. But the data show that popular attitudes and values are not the principal problem, and there is little evidence to support the claim that postponing democracy in favor of strongman rule will make things better. The people of Burma have made that point repeatedly at the polls and on the streets, and finally their rulers seem to be listening to them. The best way to democracy is through democracy.
Stanford University’s Center for Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law is offering a free on-line course on Democratic Development, a broad, introductory survey of the political, social, cultural, economic, institutional, and international factors that foster and obstruct the development and consolidation of democracy.
Further details here.