For the past several weeks I have been following the news from Africa and the Middle East with great interest. First Tunisia, then Egypt. Now protests against dictatorships and in favor of democracy have emerged in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Iran. Other governments in the region have tried preemptive measures to appease potential protesters, although who can say how long they will be placated, if at all. These are amazing times.
Photo courtesy New York Times
As I sit down to write my nieces letters about these events for them to open when they become adults, I find myself stopping mid-letter, waiting for the latest development, waiting to see how it all turns out. Because of course by the time they open these letters in more than a decade, the outcome will be much clearer.
There are those who are fearful that majority Muslim countries are not fit for democracy, fearful that “Islamists” (the latest bogeymen of the media) will take hold and turn the countries into America-hating and terrorist-generating nations. Maybe so, although that seems unlikely.
In the grand arc of history, people seem more concerned with jobs, food, education, housing, and healthcare. If they have those things – which, generally speaking, they have more opportunity to secure in a functioning democracy – they have less reason to turn to terrorism and violence. Most terrorists have come from countries with repressive governments and Al Qaeda’s initial grievances against the US were about American support for the Saudi monarchy and the presence of the US military in Saudi Arabia.
Sure, it is a gamble. We won’t know until many years how it all turns out. But it seems particularly undemocratic to tell people that they aren’t fit to have a democracy. Shouldn’t it be up to them to decide? And in the long run, which side of history do the Americans want to be on? The side that props up strongmen dictators whose regimes repress their population, or the side that supports the flourishing of democracy (albeit without invading countries to turn them into democracies)?
I’ll place my bet on supporting democracy. Twenty, thirty, forty years from now, we’ll look back at these times and realize not only were they amazing, but they were the start of the renaissance of the Arab world and an era that saw increasing stability throughout the region.