Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Inner as Well As Outer Change in the Arab World

Anyone who lives in a western democracy is inclined to feel some sympathy with the revolutionary currents in the Arab world. The idea of toppling a dictator captures one's imagination. In my adult lifetime I have observed the overthrow of dictators in Haiti, Romania, Czechoslovakia and East Germany. Without violence, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and quite a few other nations have turned away from dictatorship and embraced free elections and human rights.

There is a misconception about a dictatorship, that a country can be filled with wonderful people and that the dictator inflicts suffering upon the people. The reality is far more complex. In East Germany, more than 20 years after the fall of communism, people are still dealing emotionally with the fact that they were spied upon by neighbours.

In Haiti, when Baby Doc was overthrown in 1986, the same society that produced the foot soldiers of the Duvalier dictatorship also produced brutal warring factions. Today, there are those who look back with nostalgia upon the "kinder gentler" brutality of the Duvalier dictatorship.

After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, there are those who long for the austere stability in the days when the USSR stretched uninterrupted across 12 time zones. There are still people today who view Stalin as a hero. Millions of Russians wanted to be Communist Party members, and the 5% or so of the population who made the grade enjoyed varying degrees of perks for being the "revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, America has found that overthrowing a dictator is fairly easy. What is far more difficult is for the people of Iraq, Afghanistan or any other authoritarian regime to learn the ways of free men.

The political culture of Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and other countries in the Arab world gave rise to brutality and to dictatorship. Any regime that replaces the ones now in place will employ the same people. In Egypt, the government of Mubarak turned a blind eye to pogroms against Christians, as well as the rape and kidnapping of Christian girls. Any government that follows that of Mubarak will still be dealing with the same climate of intolerance that has developed over centuries in Egyptian society.

It will be good to see change come to the Arab world, where the winds of revolution blow so strongly today. But that change must be internal as well as external, if it is to do any good at all.

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