Last year it all seemed so positive. The people of Egypt rose up as one and demanded democratic rights. The army found itself in an untenable position and ceded control. Elections were held. The right wing did not like the result. They gave Morsi one year as president, and now he has been deposed and arrested.
Where have we seen this before? Spain in the 1930’s is a good example. A stagnant traditionalist and impoverished state. The people demand democracy. The vested interests must concede to elections. They don’t like the result. In steps the army. Civil war.
Same thing in Chile with Allende. It has happened in numerous African states.
So what is the problem?
Well, the problem is that democracy is a very imperfect solution. Good solutions tend to be ambiguous, slow, evolutionary. Democracy works well when you have already had democracy for a long time. The problem with Egypt today and Spain and Chile in the past is that they tried to use democracy to solve a state of national crisis.
When you have a national crisis what you need is simple, fast solutions delivered by strong, unified and aligned interests. You want a demagogue, a benevolent dictator. You want a Nasser (before he lost the 6 day war). You want Mussolini (before people learned he was stupid). You want Hitler (up until 1940 when his success turned him into a megalomaniac).
Arabic nations in particular seem to venerate autocracy. They seem to see the world the way Europe did back when Kings had the divine right to rule. Power flows from Allah to the Prophet and down to the Leader. In Europe we are astounded by the strength of trust and loyalty generated by people such as Gaddafi, Nasser, Saddam Hussein, Bashr Al Assad.
I have come across a theory that the difference in nature between oriental and occidental rule is founded in the difference in the land between Persia and Greece. In Persia the lands are broad and relatively easy to traverse. Tribes can migrate with relative ease. Peoples moved freely westwards from the Asian steppes, northwards from Arabia and southwards from the Russian steppes. To defend your lands from intruders you needed a strong centralist authority which could depend upon the unity and support of the people. As a result the first great bronze age civilizations rose in Mesopotamia. Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, the Hittites etc.
By contrast Greece is a land of rocky valleys and islands. Each valley and each island is a land onto itself, with its own lord, its own army, its own economy. It is very difficult for invaders to move across Greece. Passes are few and narrow, and the locals use them effectively for ambush. As a result Greece developed into a plethora of fiercely independent states. Different states experimented with different forms of government. They had single kings as in Macedonia, dual kings as in Sparta. There were tyrants, ruling councils, democracies, republics, oligarchies and theocracies. Through trial and error some of these systems were found to be better than others, and they evolved into the modern federal style of republic that is most common today. We incorrectly call it democracy.
When Europe and America went through the throes of religious wars, the dissolution of the Roman Empire, the rise of feudalism, the emergence of the nation state, the rise of free thinking, the age of revolution and the First World War, the Arabic world was blessed with the stable and benevolent rule of the Ottomans. They had the only ruler in history to earn the epithet “Magnificent” and Suleiman truly was magnificent. Under his rule the Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Balkan peoples and Persians had a legal system far surpassing anything in Europe for centuries. They were clean, well fed and secure.
To a Turk in the 1550’s Europe seemed a dirty and dangerous place. By the 1900’s it did not seem a whole lot better. Loyalty to the Sublime Porte seemed far superior to the disunity of English and French parliaments.
It is really only since the end of the First World War that the West has prospered and the Middle East has reeled from crisis to crisis. And why has the Middle East failed? Well, because the Western Nations dismantled the central control of the Ottomans. We broke up their Empire, divided out the lands and handed them out to western flunkeys.
Eventually the people of those lands tire of the western approved rulers and throw them out. The people who lead the throwing out tend to be strong characters with good support either from the military or from tribal structures. The nations of the Middle East have no history of success with democratic government. When they look back into history they equate stability, peace and wealth with unity, loyalty and autocracy. They do not have the western appetite for deontology and individualism at the expense of the state. They value utilitarianism and teleological sacrifice of the individual’s desires to the common good.
Is it any wonder that the Arab spring has stalled? It will take a number of evolutions and revolutions before these nations “get” democracy. The West must be patient.
Ozymandias; by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’