The Fundamentals of Proper Government in the Middle East and North Africa
As populous uprisings continue to shake the Middle East and North Africa, some will ultimately lead to successes. For the Peoples of these lands, governments must be formed that can bring order while truly representing the interests of their populations. Quite frankly, new governments will not be supported, unless they can demonstrate their legitimacy. In fact, because these governments will not be able to immediately fulfill the demands of dissenters, they must be crafted in such a fashion that they demonstrate their sole mission is to address the interests of their People. The United States, which is a liberal constitutional democracy, serves as a clear example of what a fledgling, popular government needs to ensure its longevity and success.
Not all successful political movements will lead to the rise of a democratic government, but the Middle East is likely to see a significant number of democratic upstarts. Successful governments maintain their power, because they are able to serve, or at least address, the critical interests of their civilizations. In the modern world, populations have a variety of interests. Some are critical and others can be neglected for some time. Because democratic governments require the input of a large cross-section of the population, they are more likely to correctly identify critical interests and check civil discontent by recognizing the concerns of citizens.
More and more, the legitimacy of government depends on democratic representation, but many emerging democracies have either outright failed or become pseudo-democracies where dictators clutch onto power for decades. What ensures a democracy's success is its ability to sustain Law and order. Constitutional democracies rely on standard laws, which do not arbitrarily change, balanced power sharing, so one government branch cannot dismantle the entire government, and set universal rights that are vigorously upheld. In short, government requires Law and respect from the electorate, as well as government officials, for that Law. The challenge for new democracies is, therefore, designing a foundation for Law that can be respected by all.
Although countries like Egypt and Tunisia appear to want secular governments, many democracies in the Muslim world may look quite different from those in the West. The term liberal, in the context of a foreign policy discussion, refers to a focus on personal autonomy, individual rights, and personal wellbeing. Traditional governments have existed for the benefit of their ruling class, or the citizenry as a whole, instead of all individuals. This is why communism is more liberal than authoritarianism, but less liberal than democratic governments. Liberalism contributes to the success of democracy as it ensures individual participation in government, but selective and limited liberalism may be a necessity for some civilizations.
A clear, obvious example where Islamic liberalism, which will be more culture oriented, might conflict with Western liberalism is in freedom of religion. Countries with populations of great religious diversity benefit from protections that allow individuals to express personal values of their choosing, but those same rights may not be relevant in more homogenous cultures. In fact, such expressions can tear countries apart where religion is a defining cultural characteristic. Muslim nations have demonstrated a history of tolerance when it comes to respecting views of Christians and Jews, yet these cultures do not accept beliefs from outside this family. As such, some democracies might choose to leave out a blanket freedom of religious expression.
Of course, selective and limited liberalism are nothing unique to the Muslim world. Over the last few decades, there has been a tendency to narrowly define the opening of domestic markets, which is a central trait of Western liberalism, with "free trade" versus normalized trade relationships. This is almost like equating immigration to tourism. The US and other wealthy countries have experienced the ill-effects of uneven, harmful "free trade" agreements that have lead to massive outsourcing, along with other systematic problems. To broadly use a foreign policy concept, America and other wealthy nations are experiencing il-liberalism. A destructive backlash, or a constructive policy reconfiguration, against these policies will be forthcoming.
The global market and the US domestic market are both helped when more economies are open to greater trade with America, yet the loss of economic sovereignty, characterized by the inability of government to tax, regulate, and enact domestic policy without being directly influenced by foreign bodies, has helped further narrow the distribution of wealth in America, i.e. individual freedoms are constrained, as the wealthy benefit more from trade and the general population has less leverage in the job market. What has allowed for the historic acceptance of "free trade" policies, which cost the lower classes of wealthier nations, has been increased social welfare. Because the idea of a welfare state conflicts so strongly with American capitalism, the US becomes less democratic with these compounding il-liberal policies.
The Peoples of the Middle East and North Africa face a variety of challenges. Those challenges, however, cannot be met unless countries in political transition choose proper governance. While Law and order are essential elements that all legitimate governments must provide, democratically reformed governments have many advantages, especially considering the globalized nature of the modern world. Where Middle Eastern and North African nations will greatly differ from the democracies the world already knows is in their liberal traits. Even the US is selectively liberal, which will be far more apparent as conflicts arise over il-liberal policies, so Muslim countries must select governments that work for their unique civilizations.