Are Arabs Capable of Democracy?: The Arab Spring and Political Change

Analysis, posted 02.11.2012, from Egypt, in:
Are Arabs Capable of Democracy?: The Arab Spring and Political Change (Photo:

The question came unexpectedly. No one had posed anything similar up to that point. During a recent public discussion with journalists and experts in Berlin on the situation in Egypt after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, a member of the audience came forward. The Egyptians lack any experience in democracy, he said. Wouldn't it therefore be better, he proposed, to reinstate the monarchy that had been swept away in 1952 by a military putsch?

The question reflected serious concerns about what will follow after the mass protests in the Arab world. Above all, many fear that Islamists in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia will pursue the model of Iran or Saudi Arabia and establish strict religious rule. There is now even talk of an "Islamic Spring" in the Arab world.

The election results in Egypt confirm the views of many sceptics that the triumphal march of religion has now begun. The Muslim Brotherhood amassed almost 50 percent of the vote, while the ultra-conservative Salafists garnered 25 percent. One might suppose that the country is firmly in the grip of sinister, bearded religious fanatics.

Mistrust and arrogance

The man's question, however, also reveals to what extent the people in the Arab world are regarded with mistrust. The question could be reformulated more bluntly: What do they even know about democracy down there anyhow?

When seen in this light, the question is clearly impertinent, when not downright arrogant. It assumes that the people "down there" cannot live in a democracy – that people in the Arab world are generally incapable of functioning within a democratic system.

This, in turn, implies that they are unable to learn from experience nor further develop themselves. It wasn't so very long ago that similar views were held with respect to a certain European country. After the Nazi dictatorship, many were of the opinion that the Germans were simply incapable of living in peace with their neighbours and that it would be better to transform Germany into an agricultural land.


By Jan Kuhlmann; Translated by John Bergeron