Friday, May 13, 2011

Root Causes of the Arab Spring

It is marvelous and reassuring that many Arab nations have taken significant steps toward democracy. Why did this happen now? Here are my thoughts:
  1. Dictatorships are fundamentally unsustainable. Democracy is simply a better system of government. People want to control their own destiny and govern themselves. The ongoing dictatorships built up much unrest in many Arab countries for a very long time and it has just been waiting for the right trigger.

  2. The rise of the Internet allowed those in Arab nations to learn more about how the rest of the world operated -- both historically and in real time. Knowledge is power. An event in Tunisia proved to be the trigger that sparked its revolution and this in turn sparked others (Egypt, Bahrain, Syria, etc).

  3. Cell phones (in addition to the internet) allowed groups of people to coordinate their efforts. Knowledge is power.

  4. Al Jazeera provided an independent, successful and very visible free press run by Arabs with reasonably balanced viewpoints on Arab news. Many other press organizations in Arab countries have been strongly controlled by governments, but not so with Al Jazeera. A free press is necessary for democracy.

  5. The election of Obama demonstrated to the world that the system of democracy in the United States did not keep the US locked into an imperialist model -- the people can speak and elect someone from a minority who has a more balanced view of how the US can work with the world (rather than abuse its power). The policies of George W Bush (particularly invading Iraq) wreaked havoc on the US's public image world wide and particularly in the Arab world. Where as Obama's Presidency has restored faith that the US system of government (and thereby democracy in general) can self correct to choose better courses of action.

Here are some lessons to take away from the Arab Spring phenomenon:
  1. Nation building by force (like Iraq) is a very, very costly and wasteful proposition.

  2. Providing a fertile setting and letting nature take its course is much more cost effective and sustainable (Tunisia, Egypt, etc).

Strangely but not surprisingly, the US and England shot themselves in the foot in regards to spreading democracy when they interfered with a budding democracy in Iran in the 1950s -- choosing instead to clandestinely engineer the return to power of the Shah of Iran -- in order to achieve some short term gains. This proved disastrous in the long run with Iran later turning violently anti-US. Imagine how the Arab world might have turned out had democracy succeeded in Iran in those early days and if we had helped a democratic ally rather than undermining it. Iran might have then had 50-60 years of democracy for it to stabilize and hopefully spread to others in the region. This may or may not have been how it would have played out, but it could have. I think it is important for the US to have a cordial and supportive relationship with all other democracies -- even if they choose policies that are not what the US might want . If the country in question is a democracy than it is what the people of that country wanted. It is important for the US to honor the sovereignty of other countries so that they in turn are more likely to respect us.

These same dynamics along with growing wealth and a growing middle class will eventually lead to change even in China despite the considerable success China's government has had in perpetuating itself. It will take time but it is inevitable. The will of the people shall rule in the long term.

No comments: