Sunday, December 30, 2012

Too Soon to Judge

Many things begin their growth in the spring. But few mature by the end of summer. We must have patience with the Arab Spring and focus on the roots of a civil society based on rule of law. And we must accept that steps forward will not be uniform and may even get worse in some places. Work the problem and don't pine for the illusion of stability that strongmen in the Arab world seemed to provide.

I've counseled patience with the Arab Spring for some time, now. Here's another plea for patience, as related by Max Boot:

Watching political developments unfold in the Middle East—from Libya’s post-Qaddafi chaos to the growing authoritarianism of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and of Nouri al-Maliki in post-Saddam Hussein, and now the violent dissolution of post-Bashar Assad Syria—it is easy to despair of the possibility of real democracy taking root in the region or to pine for the days of the strongmen. Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, offers a must-read counterpoint in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. She reminds us that the process of democratic development was not very smooth in Western Europe either—that in fact it took decades, even centuries.

She offers the examples of France, Italy, and Germany: all now well-established liberal democracies but at one point they were anything but.

Overthrowing the autocrats was just the most obvious first step. Overthrowing habits of authoritarianism amongst even the liberals who don't really grasp what "democracy" means besides the surface appeal of modernity is the hard part.

Yes, sometimes things will get worse. But it wasn't going to get better without overturning the status quo of autocratic regimes that stoked what they hoped was a tamer form of Islamism in support of their autocracy in order to appeal to dissidents, rebels, and terrorists who also used Islamism to gain allegiance of the people.

Work on making even the Islamists responsible for their policies (hey, tourists and investors aren't too keen on risking necks and money in Islamist-friendly places) and too afraid of the consequences of failing to allow regular and relatively free elections for the people to judge their progress.

Sure, it is a myth that Mao once said after one and a half centuries it was too soon to judge the 18th century French Revolution. But I think we can say that this really is a case of "fake but accurate." History happens in huge chunks and not in a single exciting season with a happy ending and all loose ends wrapped up.

The problem of Arab Islamism and the promise that the Arab Spring can subdue with democracy the urges for jihad that spring from today's Arab Moslem societies is a long term struggle. Work the problem and don't grow frustrated that it takes time.

NOTE: Oh, and the first three sentences of the post are an allusion to both my previous post on Friedman and Being There, the movie. Lest you think I'm that full of myself.

UPDATE: When you consider that some of the so-called liberal community here in America have a frightening problem with appreciating the value of rule of law in promoting freedom rather than simply handing absolute power to whoever gets 50+% of the vote, you should have more modest goals for the first years of the Arab Spring. The author is a professor of constitutional law, by the way. Tip to Instapundit for that link.

Our Constitution can be changed. We have procedures for that. If you don't like something about it, try to change it. That's a constitutional right, too.

Oh, and while I argue for patience in judging the Arab Spring and for a willingness to work the problems, don't be confused that I don't recognize that Egypt is a serious problem in this struggle:

THE bespectacled Mohamed ElBaradei is a serious man with a pile of degrees in constitutional law and a Nobel Prize for running the UN’s nuclear agency. Last winter he warned of grave trouble if his country elected a president before defining the powers of the office in a new constitution. The generals in charge of post-revolutionary Egypt failed to listen.

That is something many Egyptians will now deeply regret. Muhammad Morsi, the Muslim Brother and winner of presidential elections in June, shocked the country by issuing a decree that assumes vastly widened powers for his office, including virtual immunity against judicial oversight. He then ordered the assembly that is drawing up the country’s new constitution to cram a month’s work into a single day—so as to produce a draft on November 29th, ready for a referendum in mid-December. All this has met with furious protests. The courts have gone on strike and demonstrators have taken to the streets in numbers not seen since last year’s revolution.

On the bright side, the revolution still isn't over. If we support the forces of rule of law, we might yet win the struggle in Egypt one day.