Scott Hutchings outlines his hopes for where the revolutions in the Middle East will lead.
The recent wave of revolutions across the Middle East has demonstrated that oppression, state violence and diplomatic and financial support from the United States doesn’t grant to the many regimes in the Arab world the safety and stability that many once thought came with such key components. The successful risings that we witnessed first in Tunisia and then in Egypt and the current protests in places ranging from Libya through to Bahrain have all shown one trend that united them all in their demands against their rulers: Democracy. This one word which has resonated from every protest so far witnessed in North Africa and the Middle East, covering their various individual demands for free and fair elections, open and plural political parties and a free press.
We have traditionally believed this to be a western idea, only suited to those in developed countries who are capable of fully operating such a system. This is perfectly demonstrated in Delacroix’s revolutionary scene of 1830. This has come to mean that the Arab world was considered incapable of having such a system introduced in their countries, and if they were to have democracy then this could only be achieved through the intervention of the west as we witnessed in Iraq in 2003 and not through the actions of the citizens of those countries.
This traditional and largely accepted idiom in the West has now been shown for what it was, a false concept built on imperial hubris and a harking back to ideas once prevalent in the 19th and early 20th century. The uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East have shown that the value of democracy appeals to all of mankind, irrespective of colour, religion or race. Similarly those key tenets that we attribute to democracy, namely freedom of press, free elections, open political parties and respect for human rights are indeed universal. This demand for democracy across the region is further supported by the continued pressure that those who played a part in removing their rulers from power in Tunisia and Egypt put upon the provisional governments in those countries to keep to the demands that they set out to achieve when they first took to the streets.
The challenge now that we can see before our eyes that democracy is a universal right and demand is for the west to finally acknowledge this and develop mechanisms that place this new fact right at the centre of foreign policy thinking on North Africa and the Middle East. While this may be hard to accept for some and hard to adapt to for many, the merits of accepting democracy rather than dictatorship, as the new modus operandi in the Arab world would in the long run bring both greater stability and at the same time meet the needs of the Arab populations who have demonstrated how much they value what we in Britain, the US and France take for granted.
The policymakers and politicians in Europe and the US should stand-up and tell the Arab world that they support democracy, they support the right of every nation on earth to have a democratic system of government and that they will support such movements wherever they may stir with financial and moral support, and more importantly that we shall not seek to impose on you a democratic system as we see fit but one in which the citizens of those countries find suitable to their cultural and historical traditions. This statement and small set of actions alone would set out an example to the world that democracy is universal and no nation on earth, whether friend or foe should be exempt from such basic expectations.
This may be a vain hope and realpolitik may soon kick in once revolution in the Arab world takes a turn that the west finds inappropriate or threatening to its interests, but if it truly wants to regain its moral leadership in the world then championing democracy as a worldwide ambition would be a start.