Can Democracy Exist In The Middle East?

The difficult dynamics of the Middle East is reflected in the reaction of Iran to reports of alleged chemical weapons use by Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. Iranian President Hasan Rouhani condemned the use of chemical weapons, yet in the same breath absolved Syria of all responsibility.

The West has its conception of democracy and clearly believes it has an interest in fostering democracy in the Middle East. The hitch, however, is that democracy in the Middle East in practice is not what many had hoped it would be. When the West supported democratic elections in Egypt, it hoped groups affiliated with terrorists would not win. They did.

Many argue that this means democracy has no hope in the region.

George Jonas makes this case in The National Post. that when nations try to bring democracy to “a region before it’s ready for them, [it] can have a deleterious effect on both the region and democracy.”

“Democracy is a superior system when it functions, but so far it hasn’t functioned consistently except in a handful of Western countries. Like an exotic car, it’s sensitive, and requires expert drivers and well-paved roads. On unimproved back roads a simpler, sturdier design performs more reliably. A stable, benevolent autocracy may offer more mileage and a safer drive than a volatile, sensitive democracy under some circumstances,” he writes.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan sees it differently. Asked about the situation in Egypt, he said that they “will sooner or later win their struggle for democracy. The West has to understand this if they want to pass the democracy test. If the West does not take sincere steps, democracy will be questioned throughout the world.”

Patience and understanding the limits of our power to influence events in the Middle East is a good thing, says Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

In presenting a “score card” of US influence in the Middle East, he acknowledges the image of the US has taken a beating, but says there positives can be found.

“Still, on many things that really count and those we can actually affect, the situation isn’t as gloomy as many suppose. We are now less bogged down in the Middle East than ever before. That growing independence — along with a recognition that there are limits to U.S. power and we can’t fix everything — is a good thing. And it couldn’t have come at a better time, particularly for a nation whose own house is so badly in need of repair,” he asserts.




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