Is Arab Democracy Possible?

Joshua Muravchik engages George Will in a debate on the most important question of our time: Is democracy possible in the Arab world?
Muravchik’s answer, in essence, is Why not? He notes that over the last three decades, democracy has spread widely throughout the world. A number of very different cultures have shown themselvses capable of self-rule. And he reminds us that past predictions of futility have not always come true; the State Department warned President Truman that “experience [has] shown that democracy in Japan would never work.”
I agree with Muravchik’s conclusion, which is that we really don’t have any alternative to trying to reform the Arab world, notwithstanding the fact that our efforts may fail. But Muravchik does not address one basic question that is essential to our strategy in that region: What becomes of democracy when a majority of the citizenry holds views that are anti-democratic?
We actually have some experience with this issue. In the 1930’s, National Socialism was a very popular ideology, not only in Europe but throughout much of the world. In several countries fascist governments came to power through elections or through political maneuver, thereby bringing about the end of democracy. It was only six years of war and millions of casualties that beat the fondness for fascism out of its supporters.
I do not accept that a majority of Arabs are Islamofascists or support Sharia, the imposition of Islamic law on the state. For one thing, I think the Islamofascists’ tactics would be different if they commanded anything like a majority. But it is true that many Arabs are Islamists, and it is hard to say what the result of a free election in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, etc. would be. A fundamental difference between bringing democracy to Japan and Germany and bringing democracy to the Arab world is that in the former case, the National Socialists had been defeated and discredited in a cataclysmic war. That opened the door for adoption of democratic values. In the Middle East, there has been no such cataclysm and no such defeat. Therein, it seems to me, lies the greatest risk for failure of the administration’s policy of liberating the Arab world.


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