Watching the non-violent protests that have broken out in most of North Africa and the Middle East since Tunisia’s so-called Jasmine Revolution led to the fall of Ben Ali’s government, got me thinking about the twin concepts of democracy and stability. Is democracy a pre-requisite for social stability? If it isn’t, is democracy more important than social stability? These questions arose as I was watching a panel of experts on a news program, discussing the west’s support for authoritarian regimes and dictatorships in North Africa and the Middle East under the guise of promoting social stability. The panel in question was highlighting the west’s hypocrisy in seemingly promoting democracy and democratic values when it suits them and their interests but also at the same time being willing to prop up, support and even defend non-democratic, autocratic regimes when it suits their interests. In North Africa and the Middle East the west has defended and propped up authoritarian regimes claiming that this is the only way to ensure social stability and guard against Islamic extremists and Fundamental Islam taking control and ruining society. This is the excuse that the west used to support Ben Ali’s brutal regime in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic rule in Egypt and many other like-minded regimes in the region. So it would seem to indicate that the west, by its actions is conveying the message that social stability is more important than developing and entrenching a democratic culture as well as upholding democratic values. Or maybe the real message here is that democracy only works when it protects and promotes western interests. This would explain why the west supported the Algerian government and its military when they abruptly stopped run-off elections in the 1990s when it seemed quite obvious that the elections would bring a fundamentalist Islamic party into power. It would also explain why the west was quick to place heavy sanctions on Palestine and the Palestinian Authority when the fundamentalist Islamic party Hamas won Palestine’s first democratic elections in an election that was both free and fair. In both instances democracy delivered an outcome that was unfavourable to the west and as such the west found itself engaging in anti-democratic practices all for the sake of promoting “social stability.” Another great example of this is Haiti, where the west has been happy to allow former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to return to the country, whilst refusing permission for Haiti’s only democratically elected leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return claiming that this would “destabilise” the country even though he was removed from office by a western backed military coup after winning a clear majority in democratic elections and still remains Haiti’s most popular political leader. So the west slams certain regimes for being authoritarian and undemocratic, like Iran but at the same time it supports authoritarian and undemocratic regimes like Egypt on the basis that this promotes social stability. So it would appear from the west’s clearly contradictory actions that it values stability much more than democracy or could it just be that the west values protecting its economic interests more than democracy and protecting the rights of the people in non-western countries? Looking at other parts of the African continent one can see many instances where the promotion of democracy has created chaos in society, brought instability and accentuated divisions and the lack of political consensus that comes as a result of this push for democracy and pluralism has led to civil war and the complete collapse of the nation-state project. So it would appear that even from a merely pragmatic perspective, when trying to build a nation-state and create the social cohesion and consensus that are necessary for economic growth, development and progress to occur, it is sometimes necessary to subvert democracy and to build on an autocratic model of governance. This would explain the success and miraculous economic turnaround of autocratic countries such as Vietnam and China who are modernising quickly and developing rapidly because of the social stability that has been attained and retained through autocracy. This is not in any way suggesting that an autocratic model of governance is better than a democratic model, but merely stating the reality that when faced with a choice between democracy and social stability a country may be better served by choosing stability even at the cost of democracy, a democratic culture and democratic values in order to create the conditions necessary for economic growth, development and progress to occur.
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