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In the Absence of True Democracy


December 18, 2017

We do not live in the Stone Age anymore: we live in a critical time in modern history where security issues, politics, and economic and technological changes happen rapidly. True democracy does not work as it did in the early history of the free world. The nature and rules of politics must be redefined.

If we focus on the Middle East, among all examples of democratic failure in the world, we can come to understand several factors that undermine democracy. One major factor is the outside influence by western powers that look to engage in and impose state building in the Middle East. I do not want to speculate whether their intentions are to bring democracy to the Middle East, or if they are only operating in their best interest. Regardless of the West’s intent to spread democracy, the West’s foreign policy must change, for the reasons explored below. Otherwise, significant consequences will result, such as the emergence of extremists and terrorists.

If we examine the Arab World, what are the success stories of the 2011 Arab Spring – Tunisia? Not really: a new poll by the International Republican Institute shows that corruption is still a major cause of dissatisfaction among Tunisians. According to the survey, 89% of Tunisians believe that corruption is worse today than before the 2011 democratic revolution.

Expanding on underlying assumptions, why do we often presume that the only solution for the Middle East is a democratic system? This solution merely suggests that the Middle East needs to develop the culture and practice of democracy before it will take root, but does not address that democracy may harm the region. Yes, a true democracy may heal the wounds of the Middle East, but only when it comes from the people through education.

​Iraq, where I live, is a prime example of a case in which promoting democracy did not have the intended result. Previous U.S. administrations made an effort to establish a democratic system after the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq in 2003, but it has only resulted in a state that is dependent on foreign government support. I am not trying to blame every Iraqi ill on top-down democracy, and I know a stable democracy takes time. I am also aware of the difficulties surrounding ethnic and religious diversity, and I fully understand that the Syrian Civil war further complicates matters. I believe systems of government fall on a spectrum from democracy to authoritarianism: a slightly less democratic government can bring short-term stability but it will require a democratic culture to preserve long-term peace and stability.

Recently, the Kurdistan region of Iraq was attacked by the Iraqi military for exercising its democratic right to conduct an independence referendum. The Iraqi Supreme Federal Court, which is primarily comprised of non-Kurdish judges and is not officially established under the Iraqi constitution, ruled the independence referendum unconstitutional. To me, this represents a clear breakdown in the democratic process. Again, before changing the system to democracy, which is not as flawless a system as many western governments depict it, we need to fortify the culture, practice and principles of democracy, promote coexistence and tolerance and educate the next generation of Iraqis with these principles.

In my opinion, top-down democracy is not feasible in the Middle East at present. Historically, whenever a country in the region tries to exercise democracy, it ends up with an elected dictator or a corrupt system for a variety of reasons:

First, religious, traditional and tribal powers and authority in Middle Eastern countries dilute the number of pro-democracy groups. Second, the current levels of corruption in the Middle East prevent democracy from thriving. Third, the present domestic political systems in the Middle East prevent countries from successfully integrating or collaborating with the international political framework. Last but not least, the threat of a military coup prevails throughout the region. I do not wish to portend that democracy is a doomed pursuit; however, the Middle East must promote civic engagement, political reform and invest in education in order for democracy to have a positive impact.

On the whole, it must be taken into account that the promotion of democracy is not the most pressing issue facing the Middle East. In Iraq, minorities are under constant threat and must fight for survival. Issues are complex and the ability to solve these issues requires educated individuals who understand that democracies are not born overnight and that people only accept effective governing systems. In light of the events and systems that brought about the current Middle East, it begs the question: “Can democracy result in effective governance in the Middle East, or is true democracy ultimately unobtainable in the region?”

DISCLAIMER: McCain Institute is a nonpartisan organization that is part of Arizona State University. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent an opinion of the McCain Institute.

Publish Date
December 18, 2017