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The New York Times ran this article by David Kirkpatrick, “New Freedoms in Tunisia Drive Support for ISIS,” on 22 October on the Arab Spring in Tunisia. In it, we see some of the subplots that were in operation throughout the movement. From the “western” perspective, this is a pro-democracy movement. This is inaccurate. While people across the Arab world do seek freedoms, they seek, more importantly, better lives. They will settle for a UAE-style illiberal state if life is good and sufficiently free. They do not seek western, liberal democracy.
Democracy does cater to the organized. Everyone from James Madison to Mancur Olson to Jonathan Rauch tells us that. In the Arab world, desires for freedom and better economic conditions were and remain tempered by the fear that democracy and elections will lead to rule by the Muslim Brotherhood or, now, ISIS.
Oscar Wilde said that the problem with socialism is that it takes up too many evenings. This concern was palpable during my time in the Middle East and remains so today. If democratic freedom means that one is now free to spend all of one’s free time combatting the political power of the Brotherhood or ISIS, many across the Arab world would settle for a much less liberal version of democracy than that to which westerners are accustomed. Granted, this is a much easier tonic for folks living in oil-rich, stable states such as the UAE.
Nevertheless, it’s instructive to note that the circumstances under which democracy flourished in North America in the late 18th and early 19th centuries were a far cry from those across the globe today. The spread of democracy across the North American continent was neither bloodless nor always peaceful. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the spread of democracy in the wake of the Arab Spring is following a well-trodden path similar to paths it has taken across the world and throughout history.
Tags: Arab Spring, Democracy, Tunisia, Oscar Wilde