Robert Mayer has a great post arguing that we should expect that democracies in the middle east are going to be religious and conservative.
It is therefore reasonable to expect that, if representative elections are held in the Middle East, that the new regimes they produce will not be liberal. So I would like to take Hamzawy’s argument one step further. The question foreign policy makers must now ask themselves is: How do we help create societies in this region that are liberal so that, if elections are held, they produce genuinely liberal governments? Pushing for democracy in the Middle East doesn’t just mean elections. There’s much more. Hitler was able to come to power through elections, after all.
What needs to come before political reform above all else is economic and legal reform. Property rights, small business, free trade, fair courts, and uncorrupt police forces all have a role to play in creating the basis by which political openness can occur. This basis is economic development. The more money people have, the more of a stake they have in forcing pragmatic governance, and in order for that to happen, it requires them to develop civil society. Opportunity itself is the precursor to liberalism. Political openness will follow naturally, because society will take up that issue itself internally without the need for outside influence.
We’ve seen more of this thing in the far east, which China, Vietnam, and Indonesia in the midst of liberalizing their economies, if not their political systems. It’s definitely more encouraging than hoping for functional democracy in the mid-east.
However, there is still hope for Iraq, as the U.S. has tried to instill democracy and reform all at the same time.
And, hey, we might have a revolution in Syria before long.