Can Arab countries become function democracies? There are two main answers to this question which must be explored by looking at the literature. The first answer suggests that democracy is a universal quality and can take root anywhere in the world so long as the people believe in it. This argument suggests that this really is an Arab Spring and that the countries of the Middle East will soon be democracies. As the Economist rightly says, “All too often, before the Arab spring, the choice was between a fatalistic torpor under authoritarian leaders such as Hosni Mubarak or the delusions of extremists such as al-Qaeda. Suddenly Arabs are being asked to shed the culture of victimhood, take responsibility for themselves and uncork the creativity of their young.” However, the newspaper goes on to suggest that is “racist” to believe that democracy cannot take hold in the Arab world (Economist).
Nevertheless, there is a reason people have believed that the Arab world was “exceptional” (Browers, 1). The political culture and economic sophistication in these countries is limited and blighted by both corruption and graft. Dynasties take hold quickly and dictators often suppress and torture their people. The conditions are not good for democracy as few institution exist. . As Michaelle Browers writes in Democracy and Civil Society in Arab Political Thought, there appears to be something unique about Islamic tradition as it relates to politics. Individualism is not prominent and autonomy is not rewarded. (Browers, 2). There is also the question of whether democracy can be considered universal at all in that it comes in many different forms. Different cultures see it in different ways, as Larbi Sadiki writers in The Search for Arab Democracy. If Westerners hold out for a recognizable form of democracy they may be waiting forever (Sadiki, 2). Perhaps Arabs will come up with their own version? But perhaps not. The truth is that the newly “free” countries of the Middle East have their work cut out for them. It will be extremely challenging to become democratic, if not impossible. Those who seek to compare the Arab Spring with the fall of Communism in 1989 are deeply mistaken. There are a great many differences, many of which suggest that Arab countries will not follow in the footsteps of the eastern European countries that threw off the shackles of tyranny back then. As one foreign policy expert, James Goldgeier, recently wrote: In 2011, the United States does not have the same standing in the Arab world with opposition movements that it did in 1989 in Europe, nor do these countries seek to join Western institutions. The West has not promoted a Helsinki-type process in the Middle East that might have built ties with opposition forces, nor fostered a broader regional security framework that could promote peace. Although Hosni Mubarak won’t be around past September, President Obama doesn’