The Arabs and the Democratic Choice

Democracy is rather like love: it must come from within, and cannot be taught. Nevertheless, for Arab rulers looking uneasily at the lessons of events in Tunisia and Egypt, the example of India might be well worth heeding.

NEW DELHI – Egypt’s fate has had the world riveted in recent days to newspapers and televisions, as the unfolding consequences of Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” seem to portend a wave like the liberal revolutions of 1848 for the Arab world. Amateur historians ask breathlessly whether this could be the year of decisive change in the Middle East, the year when regime after regime falls prey to rising discontent with authoritarian rulers who have failed to deliver decent lives to their people. Who could be next: Yemen? Libya? Sudan? Even Jordan?

Watching these events from afar, I find it difficult to escape the conclusion that it is not authoritarian rule per se that is being challenged in the streets, much as we democrats would like to believe otherwise; rather, authoritarian rule has simply failed to deliver the goods. Dictatorial rule has been accepted in each of these countries for decades. What the protestors were shouting for was not just freedom but dignity – the dignity that comes from having a job worth doing, enough food to eat, and the hope of a better life for their children.

The biggest failures of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia may not have been their repressive politics but their failed economics. If young men had not been unemployed and struggling to make ends meet, feed themselves, and be able to offer a home to the young women they desire, they would not be risking their lives and freedom calling for the overthrow of their governments.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/1KNkgo9;
  1. Television sets showing a news report on Xi Jinping's speech Anthony Wallace/Getty Images

    Empowering China’s New Miracle Workers

    China’s success in the next five years will depend largely on how well the government manages the tensions underlying its complex agenda. In particular, China’s leaders will need to balance a muscular Communist Party, setting standards and protecting the public interest, with an empowered market, driving the economy into the future.

  2. United States Supreme Court Hisham Ibrahim/Getty Images

    The Sovereignty that Really Matters

    The preference of some countries to isolate themselves within their borders is anachronistic and self-defeating, but it would be a serious mistake for others, fearing contagion, to respond by imposing strict isolation. Even in states that have succumbed to reductionist discourses, much of the population has not.

  3.  The price of Euro and US dollars Daniel Leal Olivas/Getty Images

    Resurrecting Creditor Adjustment

    When the Bretton Woods Agreement was hashed out in 1944, it was agreed that countries with current-account deficits should be able to limit temporarily purchases of goods from countries running surpluses. In the ensuing 73 years, the so-called "scarce-currency clause" has been largely forgotten; but it may be time to bring it back.

  4. Leaders of the Russian Revolution in Red Square Keystone France/Getty Images

    Trump’s Republican Collaborators

    Republican leaders have a choice: they can either continue to collaborate with President Donald Trump, thereby courting disaster, or they can renounce him, finally putting their country’s democracy ahead of loyalty to their party tribe. They are hardly the first politicians to face such a decision.

  5. Angela Merkel, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron John Thys/Getty Images

    How Money Could Unblock the Brexit Talks

    With talks on the UK's withdrawal from the EU stalled, negotiators should shift to the temporary “transition” Prime Minister Theresa May officially requested last month. Above all, the negotiators should focus immediately on the British budget contributions that will be required to make an orderly transition possible.

  6. Ksenia Sobchak Mladlen Antonov/Getty Images

    Is Vladimir Putin Losing His Grip?

    In recent decades, as President Vladimir Putin has entrenched his authority, Russia has seemed to be moving backward socially and economically. But while the Kremlin knows that it must reverse this trajectory, genuine reform would be incompatible with the kleptocratic character of Putin’s regime.

  7. Right-wing parties hold conference Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

    Rage Against the Elites

    • With the advantage of hindsight, four recent books bring to bear diverse perspectives on the West’s current populist moment. 
    • Taken together, they help us to understand what that moment is and how it arrived, while reminding us that history is contingent, not inevitable


    Global Bookmark

    Distinguished thinkers review the world’s most important new books on politics, economics, and international affairs.

  8. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Bill Clark/Getty Images

    Don’t Bank on Bankruptcy for Banks

    As a part of their efforts to roll back the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, congressional Republicans have approved a measure that would have courts, rather than regulators, oversee megabank bankruptcies. It is now up to the Trump administration to decide if it wants to set the stage for a repeat of the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008.