The downfall of delivered democracy

Published January 26th, 2016 - 07:11 GMT

The transplanting of western-style democracy onto Arab states consumed by terrorism and sectarian violence has proven to be an illusion falsely equated to personal freedom. Democracy is all well and good in theory; it certainly has a nice ring about it for Arab youth, brought up on a diet of glamorous Hollywood movies and television series. But without homogenous populations, a longstanding democratic culture and established institutions, it’s a mere brand advertising non-existent goods.

Thanks to the intervention of the US and its allies Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya evolved from theocracies or dictatorships into ‘democracies’, which speaks for itself. The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ was primarily born out of mass discontent but was also fueled by Western powers and democracy-furthering institutions, which, in some cases, cultivated the art of spawning revolutions among disgruntled young activists.

In reality, freedom and economic opportunity must be won, not delivered like a pizza. It requires patience, hard work and a stable society able to attract investment and tourism. As unfashionable as this may sound, generally speaking, people are free when they have well-paying jobs, the ability to get loans to open businesses and the wherewithal to buy a home and put food on the table. Author Manoj Arora got it right when he wrote “Financial freedom is less about financials and more about freedom”.

Those living in tent cities in the US or the homeless sleeping in cardboard boxes under London’s bridges live in democracies but can hardly be considered free when they can’t even keep warm during fierce winters. And what use is democracy to the one-in-five American children living below the poverty line or minorities who are discriminated against?

In contrast to Egypt, which has been ravaged by the Western media for authoritarianism, Tunisia has been widely held up as the Arab Spring’s poster country. The Nobel Peace Prize committee gave the award to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet “for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution” last year.

I don’t wish to denigrate the efforts of the country’s political parties to put their differences behind them, but the resultant government has failed to deliver on its promise, not through lack of will but because it’s severely cash-strapped. Successive terrorist attacks have caused investors and tourists to flee, which has had an adverse effect on job creation.

Recent widespread unrest sparked by unemployed educated youth manifesting in country-wide demonstrations may portend yet another revolution which would set Tunisia’s economy back even further. No government, whether secular, technocrat or Islamist, can give its people what it doesn’t have to give.

The Tunisian Prime Minister, Habib Essid, appearing somewhat dejected, told CNN that while he was aware of the challenges his country needs economic and security assistance from the international community. “We are a young democracy. And in youth, there is period of adolescence to navigate,” he told France 24. He said his government was committed to tackling unemployment and France has come forward to offer Tunisia 1 billion over a five-year period.

An adolescent system of governance is also hampered by a large proportion of adolescents within the population unable to see the big picture because they view the world around them through their own microscopic lens and take decisions based on unrealistic ideals. While their anger is justified by turning their rage into violence on the streets, they are pushing their dreams further into the horizon.

When they can’t get what they want, they seek to destroy what they have or place their fate in the hands of terrorist groups such as Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) to feel empowered or to be enriched by the grand sum of $400 a month, the going rate for fighters.

Take the young Egyptian activists who bravely stood against Mubarak’s security forces for the sake of their burning ambition to effect change, for example. Once they brought down their president of 30 years, they refused to elect a representative or to formulate youth parties; some wanted government by revolutionary council.

And now that Egypt has a constitution, providing for a president to serve a four-year term and a functioning parliament, rather than air their grievances via the democratic system, a minority takes to social media to call for yet another revolution while being unable to answer the question, “And then what?”

Tunisia’s authorities have had no option but to impose a curfew to prevent deaths and destruction and, yes, the Egyptian government has been forced to clamp down on protests, which are invariably infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood and vulnerable to attack by Sinai Province, a terror group aligned with Daesh. There is no other route to prosperity — the true synonym for freedom — other than the bitter pill of patience combined with love of country and hard work. Democracy, no more than the icing on the cake baked from security and economic progress, can wait.

By Linda S. Heard


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