Democracy is not an exportable commodity

This week President Obama rebuked the military regime in Egypt and cancelled joint military exercises between the two countries, over the military regime’s harsh treatment of opposition protesters.

It is hard to think back to a time when Egypt was under Hosni Mubarak and remember one of the Middle East’s most stable and prosperous nations.

Tourism to its ancient sites and to its Red Sea resorts were buoyant and the country was, despite its autocratic regime, safe.

Who on earth goes on holiday to Egypt now?

This brings me nicely to this week’s rant.

When on earth will western countries realise that democracy is not like McDonald’s and can’t be thrust on unsuspecting nations that have absolutely no inkling for it?

This myth that all nations must, and want to follow the western model of regular electoral contests is a fallacy that seems to be practiced by every new President and Prime Minister of the modern era.

Despite the travesty that was the war in Iraq which to borrow a quote from Edmund Blackadder: ‘A war hasn’t been fought this badly since Olaf the Hairy, high chief of all the vikings, accidentally ordered 80,000 battle helmets with the horns on the inside.’ Western leaders haven’t seemed to learn their lesson on nation building.

I really wonder whether western powers are ignorant or just selectively blind, they don’t seem to remember the toil and strife that their own nations went through to achieve this state of democratic bliss.

The US had a bloody and bitter civil war that still represents a deep wound in the country’s psyche, the British cut the head off a king, the Peterloo Massacre (admittedly it was not much of a massacre, the British don’t really do massacres unless we’re suppressing a native population) happened because of electoral reform pressures and class warfare.

And please don’t get me started on our European cousins.

The French are on their fifth republic and counting and also had to endure a revolution, Robespierre and two Napoleons with imperial tendencies.

The Germans post Kaiser had to endure Hitler and the Nazis.

Russia is still not democratic and many of the former Soviet countries are corrupt and unmanageable.

The Italians seem intent on continuously electing a crooked and sex mad geriatric, and the Greeks are broke and constantly protesting.

Britain and the US are the greatest exporters of the democracy fallacy.

Yet the US is constantly plagued by legislative gridlock that ensures that the President can’t even pass a budget, and the UK has the privilege of having three major parties that nobody wants to vote for.

However all these leaders seem happy to put aside their own internal strife and insist that everyone else adopt this model of governments who can’t govern.

And look where it has got us.

In their first free elections the Egyptians elected the Muslim brotherhood and the Palestinians elected Hamas.

Democracy is seemingly not so ideal when the populous don’t vote for who you want them to.

Yet now we are funding Islamic fundamentalists in Syria to overthrow a tyrannical government that is indeed negative but at least it’s a known quantity.

What western leaders don’t realise that in countries that have been ruled by authoritarian regimes for centuries, democracy represents a state of anarchy.

People automatically seek to elect strong men that can stabilise the country.

In many of the world’s nations democracy is not a given, people don’t want to be involved in the governing of their country. They just want to raise their families and live their lives without having preachy western leaders informing them that their nations are not up to scratch.

People wonder why Iranians get angry at the West.

The reason is because they have a civilisation that is thousands of years old and don’t feel they need constant western intervention to tell them how to live their lives.

The decades of having their natural resources stolen by Britain and America don’t help things very much either especially when it is combined with our history of chopping and changing their government whenever it suited us.

Yes it would be wonderful if the whole would was governed by liberal and tolerant western style democracies, but that’s not going to happen.

Many nations have had too many years of authoritarian regimes to suddenly make such a switch in a short space of time.

Russia is a wonderful example.

The one decade in its history when it had a genuine democracy was an unmitigated disaster, the economy floundered, crime triumphed, and the country went to rack and ruin.

Putin despite his faults has fixed many of Russia’s problems.

I was in Bhutan in 2007 a year before the country was to hold its first ever democratic elections. People were sceptical of the prospect of not being governed by a much loved king. They had a practice election where the people just had to vote for a colour. The colour yellow (the colour of the royal family) won by an overwhelming majority.

Bhutanese people I still speak to are happy to practice democracy now but look back fondly on the rule of an absolute benign monarch.

In the Middle East, The Arab Spring did not herald in a new era of peaceful liberalism and the governments that replaced autocracy are in many ways worse than their predecessors.

So I beg Obama, Cameron, and Hollande to leave other nations to their own affairs and to stop trying to build new countries in the image of their own.

Stop this futile attempt to force people to adopt systems of government that are entirely foreign to them.

It is arrogant, disrespectful and ignorant.

We are not loved for our commitment to exporting democracy but are in fact hated.

We will continue to be hated until we learn to leave people to their own affairs.

If a people want to adopt democracy they will do so of their own accord.

They will not do so at the behest of western imperialists intent on playing the world’s policeman.

The Empire is over chaps, and it cannot be replicated under the guise of ‘spreading democratic values’.

Samuel Kerr


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