If a non-Spanish speaker was parachuted into rural Spain without the benefit of any prior language instruction, or even a phrase book, and told to “get on with it”, we can be pretty sure that by the end of a week he would not be speaking Spanish sufficiently well to conduct a reasoned argument on the benefits of the European Union.
Following a similar line of thinking, if presented with a scalpel and a range of surgical instruments, it is unlikely that a plumber would be able to successfully remove a diseased kidney and see his patient recover to full health. Conversely, who would want a renal surgeon to install air conditioning in their home, or even a shower unit.
If we accept that the above scenarios have scant chance of success then why are we surprised when populations who have lived for decades under the rule of tyrants, with no experience of democracy, fail to embrace its principles with immediate proficiency?
I was born and raised in Britain, which prides itself on being one of the oldest democracies in the world but we are still getting it wrong on a daily basis: corrupt politicians and bankers; and those who dismantle wonderful institutions built by our forefathers, such as the National Health Service, for their own gain. Is it not then unrealistic to expect that countries such as Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, would emerge from beneath the jackboot of their megalomaniac leaders into a new Utopia?
We are currently witnessing cruel and lawless behaviour in certain parts of the Arab world: indiscriminate bombings in densely populated civilian areas, the murder of innocents for belonging to the ‘wrong’ sect or religion, the serious sexual harassment of women for failing to ‘choose’ to wear the ‘correct’ clothes. But did we ever seriously believe that the transition from despot to democracy would be smooth, or painless?
It seems to me democracy is rather like winning the lottery. We all think we want to win and believe we would know how to handle great wealth wisely. But would we? In reality ‘good fortune’ like democracy is usually most efficiently employed if it is built on a brick-by-brick basis. It takes dedication and work, there are set backs and bonuses. In short, it takes time.
The Arab world is in a period of transition and – for some – chaos, but if those in command can resist the temptation to squander what has been accomplished and to work towards the democratic success they promised, the upheaval will not have been in vain.
Pat Lancaster, Editor
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