First, democracy is a delicate flower that needs fertile and the proper climate to flourish. You cannot plant Pineapples in the Arctic. Likewise, you cannot assume democracy will flourish in a region that has no history of representative government, individual freedoms, or human rights. The soil and climate are not right.
Second, democracy takes time to grow. It is unlikely that the nations of the Middle East, lacking real experience with the democratic process, no political organizations, and a free press, could suddenly become replicas of America. It just can’t happen that quickly.
Take a moment to review America’s history, a subject too many Americans know too little about. The American Revolution took twenty-five years to run its full cycle. The process began in 1765 with the fight over taxation when the Stamp Act Crisis erupted. In 1776, after eleven years of riots and tension, Americans finally drafted the Declaration of Independence. The war was on and it continued until 1783…seven years later. However, after peace had been achieved, the new nation lacked organization and domestic strife ensued. Thus a constitutional convention was called in 1787, four years after the war. The constitution was not adopted and implemented until 1790. 1765 to 1790 is 25 years!!!
A better model might be that of France. That nation broke from an absolute monarchy in 1789 with the establishment of a National Assembly. It did not take long for chaos and the Reign of Terror to supersede as France then traced a course through a series of very bloody revolutions, the Napoleonic Era, and Bourbon restorations until finally settling upon the Second French Republic in 1848. Their journey took from 1789 until 1848, fifty-nine years! Even after that, France struggled through a series of more “republics” before settling down to an effective government…assuming what they have in France today can be called effective.
The Russian revolution started in 1917 with the overthrow of Czar Nicholas. It too began with a call for freedom and a Russian Provisional Government under Alexander Kerensky. Unfortunately, that was soon followed by Lenin’s Bolshevik revolution and a particularly bloody series of Communist dictatorships until the final dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990 under Mikhail Gorbachev. It took seventy-three years and true democracy still eludes the Russian people. Fair elections, free press, political parties, and individual freedoms do not exist to this day.
Considering these examples, it is delusional to expect democracy to suddenly spring from the desert sands of: Iraq, Afghanistan, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, or Saudi Arabia? How fertile is this soil? What is the political climate? America had the advantage with strong British traditions of representative government under a constitutional monarch.
These nations have been under the thumb of tribal leaders and dictators for their entire existence, much like Russia and France. It is more logical to assume, therefore, that even if democracy takes root it will follow the course of one of these other nations rather than that of the United States. Their origins are more closely aligned.
Considering these facts, it would be advisable for the United States government to adjust its hopes and dreams to the realities of the world in which we live. The nations in the Middle East will not suddenly become functioning democracies because there are no antecedents for it.
Furthermore, although the common people may have provided the tool to overthrow traditional leaders, one can expect focused minority organizations (“Bolshevik” is Russian for minority) to exert their influence. In a short time these groups may well move the government in directions wholly unexpected or even desired by the very people who brought about the initial change.
At present, the crisis in the Middle East raises more questions than it provides answers. Thus it would be advised to step gently.
by Ron Chapman
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