Western colonialism’s continued compromise of Arab democracy

The British made promises to the Arabs but, after the fall of the Ottomans, European promises vanished like a mirage. Instead, they filled the Ottoman power vacuum with the British mandate. There would be no democracy in the Middle East.

At the start of the revolution, Syrians anticipated the intervention of the international community. The United States had acted in Libya and the West openly promoted democracy. It was a realistic expectation on the part of the Syrian people. Their confidence in the West, however, lacked historical evidence. The West has yet to offer altruistic assistance to any people seeking to adopt democracy in any hemisphere.

The Arab Spring was not the first time the Arab world looked to the West as their champion. Thomas Edward Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, was sent by the British to the Arab world to foment unrest and encourage the Arabs to revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

The British made promises to the Arabs but, after the fall of the Ottomans, European promises vanished like a mirage. Instead, they filled the Ottoman power vacuum with the British mandate. There would be no democracy in the Middle East.





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World War II exposed the weakness of colonial European powers as they were eclipsed by the US. The second Arab Spring saw the Middle East partitioned off into nation states, and the Great Powers gifted leadership to local dictators, tyrants and despots. The Arab “leader” might play the role of hero or enemy, depending on Western desire, while representational government would remain an Arab dream.

These new Arab “leaders” were beholden to Western democracies who had amassed great wealth and power through the theft of resources from the lands they had colonised. They used this horded wealth to buy influence over how the Arabs were governed and who would consume their resources.

The West’s cultural capital was as important as the hard power they wield over the Middle East. They ostensibly offered up democracy as a prize to the “good” Arabs who best regurgitated a pre-approved script.

Today foreign aid and humanitarian aid are utilised by the West to maintain control over the Middle East, ensuring their favourite despots access to useful resources. These resources are used to line the pockets of supporters to ensure their loyalty, locking in place a system that rather suppresses democracy.

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The relativity small amount of supporters required by a dictator, in comparison to the masses required by an elected president, is what makes the system difficult to break down and has been the greatest obstacle to cultivating Middle Eastern democracies. How does an entire population wrestle away the wealth of a nation from a small group of well-armed people?

How did the West solve this Gordian knot and attain self-rule? Open revolt against their own monarchs was the way four key Western powers resolved the problem. These four Western powers would one day exert substantial influence over the Middle East.

The Russians executed Tsar Nicolas II along with his entire family on July 16, 1918. The French beheaded Louis XVI and his family on January 21, 1798, ending the French Monarchy. January 30, 1649, after a bloody civil war, the British convicted Charles I of treason and executed him. They later restored their monarchy by placing Charles II on the throne. American colonialists, distraught over taxation without representation, declared their independence from the British king on July 4, 1776.

These revolutions redistributed wealth once held by a small group of supporters loyal to the king and enlarged the circle of people required to rule, paving the way for new forms of collective governance. It was often a bloody and violent shift that required decades to reestablish effective governance and, with the exception of the US, the ruler was removed and executed.

The burgeoning American state was no match for the well-armed and well-funded British Empire; not all revolutions can be successful without assistance. The US required the intervention of French wealth, military expertise, ships and troops to succeed. The Americans did not need to fight a second war of independence against the French. Once victory over the British was achieved, the French left the Americans unmolested to form their democracy. This was not the experience of the majority of former colonies.

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The Syrians waited for the West to make good on the promise of democracy. Instead, they learned what Latin Americans, Asians and Africans already knew: the West does not build democracies for former colonies unless they are run by European descendants.

Western colonial practices rather undermine democratic institutions through intentional institutionalisation of bureaucracy or unresolved sectarian divisions. Examples include over-complicated, token confessionalism installed by the French in Lebanon, or a lack of demographic recognition for the Kurds in the drafting of a new Syria, Iraq and Turkey. Either political systems become overwhelmed or grossly under-prepared.

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