There are those who believe that democracies are born like mushrooms. They believe popular movements suddenly pop up and form governments after years of oppressive rule under cruel dictators. The role of the West is to support these popular movements and everything will come out fine.
Unfortunately such a vision seems to have taken hold in North Africa and the Middle East. The so-called Arab Spring is said to herald a coming wind of Facebook-driven democratic movements that will give voice to tech-savvy youth who yearn for freedom. But is that what will happen?
No one likes a tyrant and when there is a movement afoot to depose one, we naturally tend to sympathize with it. But democracies are not mushrooms. They do not just pop up. Like all important things in life, the mechanics of government are serious matters demanding great sacrifice, consensus and hard work. They demand a political philosophy, rule of law and social institutions.
So far, everything seems to be more of a Hollywood script than an exercise in nation building and statesmanship. The young revolutionaries who seem to have tweeted their way to power in Egypt make it look so easy. They congregate in a famous square or bridge brandishing English-language banners before Western television cameras. The rag-tag “army” in Libya sees more action before Western media than Kaddafi’s troops yet enjoy all the recognition of world leaders. Yemini protesters parade with classic Che Guevara posters as they chant their slogans and demands. Everything is done to make it appear like unstoppable popular movements are on the move.
However, many questions remain unanswered.
With the breakdown of organized government, a power vacuum is always formed. In these undefined situations, the best organized win.
In all the countries where upheaval has recently taken place, the best organized are those Muslim Brotherhood, jihadist and Islamic movements with an agenda whose commitment to “democratic principles” clashes violently with the optimistic and naive expectations of the West. For these activists, mushroom democracy is but a means toward an end.
In good faith, many of these protesters rallied against tyrannical strongmen yet they fail to exclude from their ranks those with equally tyrannically views who could easily turn their revolution into a change from one tyranny to another. In addition, these “democratic” movements seem to have no problems oppressing their Christian minorities and force upon them their sharia law.
How many times the West has tasted these deadly mushrooms! In post World War II Eastern Europe, the organized communist parties overcame the Nazi tyranny with promises of democratic elections which ended in communist dictatorships. In postcolonial Africa, how many popular movements full of organized Marxist revolutionaries overthrew colonial governments promising democratic elections in which they delivered elections characterized by one man, one vote — one time?
How sure are we that the jihadists who are behind the present unrest will not deliver a similar solution?
Finally, we note the uncanny coincidence that these mushroom democracies never seem to thrive in communist climates. There is no danger of seeing these mushrooms pop up in China, North Korea, Vietnam or Cuba – all of which seem to enjoy media immunity from harsh criticism despite undemocratic governments and proven disregard for human rights.
Before throwing ourselves headlong into the camp of so-called popular movements, we should see what they stand for and who is in charge. Otherwise we run the risk of supporting mushroom democracies – and certain types of mushrooms are extremely poisonous.