Thursday, January 28, 2016

failure of the Arab spring

When the "winds of change" swept across colonial Africa in the 1950s and 1960s, Europeans and Americans welcomed the rise of self-government. The new nations even donned the trappings of democracy, though for many it turned out to be one man, one vote, one time. Instead of Jeffersons, they got Mugabes.

Throughout the post-colonial era, the older and richer countries have insisted that the newer and poorer ones have elections, and at least pretend that they are free and fair. The United States demanded them of Afghanistan and Iraq soon after conquest because that's what's supposed to happen. The elections in both countries have been deeply flawed ever since.

Then came the Arab spring. Millions of protesters and dictators toppled. Hooray! Then what? A military coup in Egypt; civil wars in Syria and Libya; some progress in Tunisia. Amanda Taub of Vox has a good article with "the unsexy truth about the Arab spring."

Talking about Egypt, she notes:
...the real problem was never the degree to which individual protesters did or did not understand grassroots political organizing. That democratic transition isn't merely the absence of a dictator. Rather, it is the presence of democratic rule.
 And democratic rule requires something a lot more important, if less obviously visible, than having a good-guy democrat at the top of the government. It requires the institutions of democracy: political parties capable of winning elections, politicians capable of governing, a bureaucracy capable of implementing that governance, and civil society groups able to provide support and stability to those institutions.
U.S. leaders, and the American public, have long had a democracy fetish: they think it's the miracle cure for corruption and authoritarianism but insist only on sham elections. We need to revise our expectations and change our emphases.

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