The Middle East and democracy’s preconditions

In a piece for the online journal American Diplomacy, former CIA station chief Haviland Smith delves into a the past century of the Middle East’s history in an attempt to discover if “true democracy” is even possible in the region. He argues that for a number of factors, the climate in the Arab world is simply not ready for a liberal democracy modeled after the United States. A relatively recent history of imperialism, divided tribal and sectarian factors, a strong Islamic faith, and an unfavorable view of the perceived hypocritical American agenda, he argues, would make a “true” democratic establishment, one with separation of powers, the active political participation of its peoples, and freedom of press, speech, and religion, an impossibility. Instead, he believes that diplomatic and military efforts in the region should be focused on a moderate Islamist regime.

While the history of democratization attempts in the region should not be underrepresented, it could be argued that the push for democratization in the region by strong and increasingly supported rebel forces, and particularly by energetic and educated youth is rapidly changing the political climate in the region. Whilst a liberal democracy that closely mirrors that of many Western nations, and in particular the United States, may not be the desired government of the Arab people, self-determination, as Smith rightly pointed out, most certainly is. While self-determination is not solely a democratic principle, it is clear that a democratic and free government, whether in the West or in the Arab world, cannot exist without it.

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