Democracy and violence have disparate missions and routes that are not comparable. Yet, this reality should not keep us from admitting that while western countries, led by the United States, have failed to promote the spread of democracy to the Arab World, a small number of Arab terrorists have successfully managed to extend their violent activities beyond their countries’ borders and into the west.
The philosophy, according to which democracy is not exportable and cannot be imposed on nations, is based on a true and valid argument. Nevertheless, the soundness of this viewpoint should not leave us empty-handed; numerous soft strategies that can be used to advocate for democracy (while evading the silly accusation of “interference in domestic affairs”) exist. Meanwhile, the perpetrators of terrorist acts, universally condemned by almost all civilians, have had more success carrying out quite a few terrorist activities not only within the Arab region, but also in many western countries.
Tools that can be used to communicate and advocate for democracy definitely exist, but the issue is one that involves a “trade-off’. Before we concern ourselves with how to spread democracy to the Arab world, we need to raise the question: has the west ever been genuinely interested in promoting democracy? The answer, unfortunately, is that no serious attempt has ever been made in this regard. The relationship the west maintains with autocratic Arab rulers (which entails a certain number of economic privileges for western governments) is more valuable to the west than democracy.
While this relationship with the west is equally valued by all Arab political entities, each individual political entity has its own understanding of, and approach to, the relationship. Arab rulers are always eager for western governments’ endorsement of their internal policies; in the absence of good governance, it certainly strengthens their power status. Our rulers perceive western criticism of their actions and policies as a form of illegal interference, yet any expression of admiration for these same rulers is legally sanctioned and appreciated. The relationship between western governments and Arab rulers often reflects positively on a few businesspeople affiliated to the rulers, who garner the choicest economic opportunities created between Arab countries and the west.
This leads us to consider the case of the vast majority of frustrated Arabs who are not lucky enough to harvest any benefits resulting from the relationship with the west and who (due to the absence of proper democracy) are often subjected to harsh treatment by their rulers. The main bulk of the Arab population has gradually come to understand that western support plays an essential role in maintaining their rulers in power.
This phenomenon has been exaggerated into a false ‘conspiracy obsession’ wherein Arabs believe that every tiny event that takes place in their countries is directed by the United States. Furthermore, Arab rulers work on encouraging this erroneous belief in an effort to deflect some of their citizens’ criticism. Meanwhile, western countries that annually donate a few billion dollars in aid to Arab nations have never been keen on expending even minimal amounts to uphold and support their democratic values and to rectify their image among Arabs.
The United States cleverly realised that the best tactic for dealing with this dilemma is to flirt with all the political entities in the Arab world. It supplies autocratic Arab rulers with the latest western technological weapons to use to fight terrorists (who, basically, emerge from repressed political Islamist groups) while simultaneously expanding its dialogue with political Islamists (a dialogue aimed at encouraging them to participate in a democratic mechanism that has never existed in the Arab world). At the same time, the United States offers Arab youth several excellent educational programmes on the theme of democracy—but it has never bothered to defend its young Arab fans by supporting their democratic mission.
Whereas western governments (believing that dating each political entity separately enhances their popularity) waver between advocating for democracy and applying realpolitik, the Arabs (who appear to be enjoying the flirtatious advances of the wealthiest, most powerful, and influential nation) have in reality branded the United States as an untrustworthy nation. The parallel multi-dating approach adopted by the United States has led to an erosion of trust, combined with a growing, implicit hatred on the part of individual Arab political entities. However, realpolitik—from the Arab perspective this time—calls for continuing the deceptive dating game.
Western superiority has never been leveraged to better promote democracy in Arab countries. Western governments prefer to maintain the same realpolitik policy, enhancing internal security measures to protect their citizens against potential terrorist attacks. However, hidden feelings of anger towards the west in general, and the United States in particular, continue to exist and develop among most Arabs. Relationships are about sharing. If the west is eager to benefit from some of the economic opportunities we offer, it is very welcome to also share with us some of the outcomes of our ‘democracy deficiency’, including repression, hatred, and violence.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian liberal politician working on reforming Egypt on true liberal values, proper application of democracy, and free market economy. Mohammed was member of the Higher Committee and headed the international relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012.