Democracy is beautiful in theory, in practice it is a fallacy – Mussolini

Democracy in the 21st century tends to come with strong support by the Western World. If the freedom to vote is good for us, the line of thinking goes, surely they are worth spreading to the world as well. Western Governments driven by this belief follow a foreign policy known as “democracy promotion”. Organizations such as the World Bank and the IMF have been strongly influenced by the European Union and aim to promote democratic ideals in the economic, political and social life of developing countries.

Institutions considered pivotal to promote democracy are run by embryonic political parties backed by financial support from various government factions endorsing democracy. Democratic ideas are pushed by Western advisors who try to strengthen regional government organizations. When these political parties get an opportunity to form government, the wisdom goes, step back and watch citizens embrace these ideals. It may sound incredibly naive to suggest that governments can influence social change or uproot political ideas, however this method had been almost universally accepted among policy makers. Even those halfhearted in their belief of democracy have believed it can work this way.

The Arab spring revolts commenced in 2010 bringing mass disruptions in the Arab League. The Arab Spring has often been described as a wave of popular uprisings against an oppressive rule. Western nations had been working for years promoting a network pro democracy organizations in the Middle East. Based on popular theories, once the revolts started to uproot one  dictatorial government after the other, the spread of democracy should been inevitable and unchallengeable.

Instead the consequences have been bleak. In just about every case the countries that rose up against dictators ended up less democratic than they began. Now, prepared with new case studies from the Arab uprisings, a group of political scientists is arguing for a thorough review of the whole conception of how to spread democracy to other nations—or if it’s even possible at all. The study, which took a systematic look at the results of the Arab Spring, deduced that the dictatorial regimes enjoyed a structural permanence that no amount of Western-funded political idealism was likely to displace.

Although the roots of the ideologies of Modern Democracy lie in the Cold War, with the Soviet Union and the United States trying to influence smaller countries and organizations around the world, by the 21st century it began to be established as a rational investment to promote human well being. As the number of economically developed nations increased rapidly, and most substituted dictatorial regimes with democratic ones, a prevailing school of thought emerged called ‘voluntarism’. It presumes that individual actions and leaders can revolutionize the course of nations, and that by giving the right ideologies and skills to promising parties democracy can be cultivated. In a fear based dictatorial regime the masses hide their opposition and disapproval, but if one or a group of audacious individuals lead the opposition, they might be joined by a large crowd of supporters emboldened to voice their opinions and make public their opinion.

Although George W Bush expressed his preference for democracy more vocally than Barrack Obama, the amount of money invested by the 44th administration of the United States in promoting democracy has been growing steadily. According to various democratization experts the United Sates of America spend about $15 billion a year promoting democracy worldwide varying from countries like Iran to Honduras to Pakistan.

Persuaded by the rallies and revolutions of various political parties across the Arab World, people expected to see the dictatorial regime replaced by more democratic of not democratic regimes. Surviving dictatorships were expected to hold new standards and administrate transparently. Not surprisingly, the complete opposite took place.  Instead of toppling over the Arab Dictatorial Regimes like dominoes, most of the dictatorships compressed revolts and uprisings. In certain cases like the Egyptian regime where President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011, the current regime upheld by the Military has turned out to be even more repressive.

What made the difference ? As long as the totalitarian regime had loyal military forces and ample financial support, the were able to ward off any attempt made by the United States to democratize. Political parties, the working of the political system and the people of the country made little difference on deciding whether the dictatorial regime would survive. Even though Western countries invested an enormous amount of money and effort to promote democracy in these countries, this seemed to make none or negligible difference. So what does help democracy take root ? Once a nation is developed not only economically but also has better governance, laws and institutions does the shift in regimes take place. Wealth alone cannot cause democracy, the nation of Singapore which is wealthy but authoritarian proves that statement.

The United States always manage to cross over their foreign policies and their aims to “make the world a better place”. In Iran, for example, they aim to empower citizens to defy the ayatollahs in protests, but simultaneously deprive them of resources through economic sanctions. In Egypt the United States give billions to support the government as a political ally, but at the same time spend millions on democracy promotion efforts to defeat the repressive government. The United States should promote human rights and international law and oppose violation of the UN Charter or the Geneva Convention, in the hope of bringing about small but significant improvements n dictatorships. The policies that the United States promote which help in the belief that their polices will lead to democracy should be done away with. Not only do they fail miserably but it gives false hope to activists contesting with the totalitarian regimes in the Arab League.

The thought may remain that we may need to invest more into the development for the dictatorial regimes and put less faith in our ability to endorse democracy directly. But it may be rash to get rid off efforts to promote democracy as the strictest critics advocate, In the baffling and complex study of what leads to the promotion of democracy in countries, it seems we are still determining which tools do work. Untill we do, it may not be wise to get rid of the one that probably does the least harm.