Monday, November 19, 2012

A word of caution--democracy was not born in a day!

Rome was not built in a day nor was democracy. It took many centuries for the system we have in New Zealand to evolve from the feudal despotic royal families of England. The royal kings and queens did not give up their power easily and even when one of their numbers was executed by a powerful Parliament, there was a ‘Restoration’ of Royal Privileges and the battle to achieve a Constitutional Monarchy needed yet more centuries of strife and war. It was only in the 20th Century that the system as we know it today came to fruition.
How then can we expect those countries that have undergone the changes in the Middle East and nearby to mirror the institutions we have in the West? There is a mistaken belief that underlays the foreign interventions led by the USA and its allies that change will be achieved and that democratic ‘norms’ will make the lives of the citizens of these ‘liberated’ countries much better.
Our arrogance will not deliver the results we wish; at least not in the short term. There are age old divisions in these societies, underscored by religion and power cliques. One would have thought that those advising Presidents and Generals would understand this but to all appearances, this is not so, hence the obvious disappointment of our ‘leaders’ when things don’t quite work out as planned. The sad fact is that the citizens of Iraq, Egypt, and Libya are not lining up at western embassy gates and thanking them. They are more likely to be hurling bombs.
What do we do then?—step back and leave them to their own devices and allow them to develop their own change? Of course we don’t and for one reason alone----oil! If there were alternatives that worked, then I am sure the Middle East would no longer feature in world politics other than as a transit point for the world’s trade.
How cynical you say. Just delve back into history and learn the lessons that we should have taken on. It seems that history repeats itself over and over. Democracy then is an illusion unless it has roots that are nurtured in the culture of the area involved. Politicians seem to be the slowest to learn these lessons.