Don’t expect democracy

Little hope of democracy as Arab despots overthrown

The toxic, fundamentalist creed of Wahabbism, which both Ibn Saud and his heirs subsidised and exported, has since made peaceful civil governance in almost every Muslim country today virtually impossible.

By Kevin Myers, Irish Independent
Tuesday February 22 2011

And so, just eight years on, the neo-con dream that prompted the invasion of Iraq is finally coming to pass with the collapse of the various Secular Arab Despotisms.

The great neo-con theory was that with such SAD dictatorships abolished, democracy, the rule of law and the market economy would flourish in the great landmass from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. And I confess, I too subscribed to this insane hallucination, not because of any evidence, but because I wished it, despite all the evidence of history.

Short-term good seldom results from revolutions. It certainly does not result from revolutions in Muslim societies in which the local imam is usually the font of both civic and criminal law, and where tolerance of others is merely conditional. The fate of the Turkish city of Smyrna after the fall of the Ottoman Empire remains a bloody and terrible warning about the consequences of revolution in a Muslim society: according to Edward Hale Bierstadt of the US Emergency Committee, about 100,000 Christians were butchered, and another 160,000 deported to the interior of Turkey. One of those who managed to escape was an Aristotle Onassis.

That was in 1922, a year after the great Cairo conference, which was intended to settle the Middle East for all time. That gathered 90 years ago this week, with its dispensations expected to be cast in rock. Yet the single institution that has actually survived was actually then the weakest, the house of Ibn Saud. So impoverished was his kingdom that his annual subsidy from Britain of £100,000 actually exceeded the income from all his lands, of which he was both king and imam.

We know his kingdom today as Saudi Arabia. No one could have foreseen the catastrophic consequences of fostering such a creature: for the first Saudi oil concession was only made in 1933. The toxic, fundamentalist creed of Wahabbism, which both Ibn Saud and his heirs subsidised and exported, has since made peaceful civil governance in almost every Muslim country today virtually impossible.

Cairo in the spring of 1921 was therefore faced with a classic case of Donald Rumsfeld’s "unknown unknowns": no one had the least idea that beneath the sands of the Ibn Saud’s lands lay the largest and most accessible oil reserves in the world.

What unknown unknowns await us today, as the neo-con dream of collapsing despotisms comes true? What nightmares lie ahead? What dark forces may yet emerge from soukh, bazaar or mosque as the old SAD order perishes?

Yes, it’s possible that democracy might emerge in these societies: but democracy can only flourish where there pre-exists a powerful and honest clerical class to administer law and to run the state. Such a class existed in the American colonies, though the price the new USA paid for its revolution is often forgotten.

After independence, some 100,000 American loyalists were driven from their homes by the victors. Ruin was widespread. South Carolina (for example) was laid waste, its population reduced (in the words of local historian Don Higginbotham) to Locke’s "state of nature".

Returning General William Moultrie found the countryside desolate, and turkey buzzards picking at the corpses of the unburied dead. Plantations were devastated, crops destr-oyed, while wild terrorist bands, some of black loyalists, continued to loot and kill long after the formal war was over.

That was the "good" revolution. I don’t need to tell you about France or Russia, or the post-revolutionary catastrophes that engulfed those societies. So what lies ahead for those Arab lands which do not have the secular, law-abiding and administrative classes that the American colonies inherited from Britain? Islam, almost certainly.

To be sure, one can derive some grim satisfaction at seeing the depraved and criminal Libyan policies of the sociopathic Tony Blair coming to nothing, as the regime of his fellow sociopath and mass-murderer Gaddafi falls apart in a welter of bloodshed. The Lockerbie bomber al-Megrahi was certainly released for nothing, because whatever deal BP was able to sign with Colonel Facelift’s regime is now as valuable as the Tsar’s signature on a contract in 1919.

The widely derided words of his son, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, on Sunday in fact bear some study. Libya is not Tunisia or Egypt. It has no binding history. It is bitterly divided between Bedouin sept and Tuareg clan, who have only supped in peace because of the fountains of oil. When they do not feast, they war.

Meanwhile, across the western world, as massacre and oppression mark the last days of Secular Arab Despotisms, almost silence. Had the butchery of Tripoli or Cairo or Yemen taken place in Israel, hundreds of thousands of protesters in European capitals would have been denouncing the cruel Jews.

Had the US journalist Lara Logan been grabbed and sexually violated by a mob of Israeli men, feminists across the world would rightly have been protesting. But she was instead the victim of a frenzied sex attack in Cairo by a score of Arabs, and there is accordingly silence.

In an ever-changing world, some things never change: and to the western liberal mind, the only real villains in the Middle East can only ever be Jewish.

– Kevin Myers

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