As the presidential election approaches, it is not just the Irish premiership that deserves our attention. It is the Middle East, which remains in the midst of a
milestone in statehood.
The ‘progress’ made so far in the Arabic word is evident: Osama Bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi dead, Hosni Mubarak imprisoned, Ben Ali of Tunisia sentenced to 35 years and Ratko Mladic awaiting trial. It seems that the West are onlookers to a movement that has overthrown its tyrants with cataclysmic contagion.
Yet it would be wrong to assume that western nations should act as bystanders to the next stage of events – ensuring the Arab Spring will bloom into democracy.
The aftermath of revolution should not be characterised by celebration in the West, but with caution. This is because the Arab Spring was at heart a movement of liberation, not of liberalism. The revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt were not about women’s rights. The Muslim Brotherhood is not concerned about constitutional democracy. Facets of democracy which we take for granted: tolerance, freedom of speech, welfare and – to an extent – secularism, are not at the forefront of these freedom fighters’ minds.
This presents a paradox for democratic nations. While many may be willing to shoulder responsibility for ensuring peaceful transition in the Arabic world, the notion of western influence is highly controversial in societies founded on traditionalist values. The wounds of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan – and most recently, Libya –are still tangible.
However, we are not powerless to prevent authoritarianism emerging once more from the ashes of revolution. The seeds of democracy can be sewn by ensuring a viable economic framework is in place to create an effective framework for democracy. Influence, in its most palpable form, is not military. It is economic.
Semantics aside, democracy is a highly contingent concept. It needs stability, both political and economic, in order to function effectively. We need to look beyond the rhetoric of liberation and realise that without international aid, these nations will never realise their democratic potential.