One senior Conservative, more than any other, has been making the case for democracy in the Middle East for some time – Michael Gove. Flicking through his 2006 book, Celsius 7/7 (still available via Amazon) I republish the three big arguments he made:
- The ultimate importance of the spread of democracy in the Middle East is hard to overstate. In the first place it is a matter of simple, and prudent, statecraft. If Iran were a proper democracy, with its leaders answerable to its people and compelled, as democratic governments are, to put their welfare first, then it would be unlikely to be pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. And even if it were, then we would have no more need, intrinsically, to worry than we have because France or India have nuclear weapons because they are democracies. As Natan Sharansky has pointed out in his brilliant book The Case for Democracy, nations that enjoy proper representative government, and the freedoms it brings, do not prejudice those freedoms and their people’s interests by pursuing policies of terror against their neighbours.
- The second reason why the spread of democracy is particularly vital in the Middle East is that it is the best solvent yet devised for Islamism. Those nations that have tried to suppress Islamism by remaining tyrannies themselves, such as Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt, have ended up either paying Islamists off, subsidising their work abroad, or watching impotently as they continue their advance… Since no Arab nation currently allows a flourishing secular space for opposition to grow, there is nowhere else to go for those who wish to protest other than underground, and into the arms of the Islamists.
- There is a third, and related, reason why the spread of democracy is important in itself. The people of the Arab Middle East deserve a better life. After years of betrayal, misgovernment and oppression, the Arab people deserve the opportunity to enjoy the same rights and freedoms that we have in the West. Inevitably, Arab democracies will have a different character from those in the West, just as Japan is differently constituted from Germany, But if both those countries can make the transition from fascism to democracy in a generation, then why can’t others, which have lived through far lesser traumas?”
The unhappy handling of the Libyan evacuation has dominated the headlines of the last 48 hours but as Daniel Finkelstein wrote in Wednesday’s Times (£), more significant are signs that the Prime Minister is shifting towards the pro-democracy internationalism of his key Cabinet friends, Osborne and Gove. It’s almost racist, he said, to suggest the Arab world cannot embrace free elections and the institutions that support them. This month’s speech on muscular liberalism, from the PM, was also much in tune with Celsius 7/7.
Interestingly, former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind – someone who hasn’t always shared the Gove worldview – used an op-ed for yesterday’s Evening Standard, to say that there was reason to be hopeful that the Middle East was ready to follow a sensible model of democracy:
“It is clear that for the hundreds of thousands protesting throughout the region, Iran and its ayatollahs are no longer a role model they wish to follow – which, for some, they once were. In the past two years the Iranian regime has been seen attacking its own people in the most brutal fashion. The Iranian regime is now seen as part of the problem, not part of the solution. The demands of the protesting multitude, most of them young, in every Arab capital are for the rule of law, democratic government, an open society and economic opportunity. In other words, they wish to join the world. We should be delighted to help them realise their dreams.”