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The Arab and Western Spring - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The Arab states that witnessed revolutions and considerable change, and even other Arab states that have escaped or withstood the winds of change in their own style, are all gripped by a justifiable fear regarding the fate of such developments, and whether they will lead to security, economic and political stability, or whether they will eventually end up with chaos and economic disorder. Or will they lead to a state of overwhelming fragility, as is the case with Egypt these days? Hence, it is natural for the Arab states to consider the experiences of other countries that have transformed from complete autocracies to states of freedom and democracy. This situation is akin to a family in which one member contracts an illness that requires major surgery. The entire family then immediately raises a torrent of questions about other patients who had similar experiences and sufferings, and who had to undergo the same surgery. They would inquire about the nature of the operation, the percentage of recovery, the side effects and the patient’s condition after the surgical process.

If we look at the secular states that have transformed from autocracies into politically and economically free regimes, we would find that they fall into several categories: in Latin America, a number of states, in their endeavor to oust despotism, experienced a state of ebb and flow whereby the people were only able to draw the breath of democracy for some time, before tyrants promptly pounced on the newborn regimes. Then once again, there were increasing tendencies towards freedom until matters eventually settled on democratic regimes with a leftist flavor, both economically and socially.

In Europe, a continent that acts according to the wishes of the United States, there were dictatorial states such as Portugal, Spain and Greece, which had failed to catch up with the other European states until the early 1970s, when their totalitarian governments were toppled and replaced with real democracies, without experiencing the ebb and flow that characterized the Latin American states.

There are also the states that were liberated from their affiliation to what was then the Soviet Union, the mother and inspirer of all despotic regimes, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, the Balkans and so on. In the 1980s these countries transformed from deeply-rooted dictatorships into free democracies and free economies, without regressing back to their old autocratic conditions.

Similarly, there are also the countries of East Asia such as the Philippines, Thailand and Singapore. These states experiences similar relapses towards autocracy as happened in Latin America, but certainly to a lesser degree. In the case of East Asia, it is noteworthy that the economic conditions of the states involved did not witness extensive changes after they became democracies, but the people were content with breathing in freedom.

The crux of the matter is that the amount of freedom gained must not be less than the amount required. This applies to the reality of the Arab Spring states, for it has been proven that the people’s main priority, along with minimum living standards, is freedom.

Some of the world’s most autocratic states have also transformed into democracies. Indeed, some of them are considered the closest example to the Arab Spring states, because they share the same religion and they were previously plagued by underdevelopment, such as Turkey and Malaysia. Those two countries have transformed in every way from autocracy to freedom, and from deplorable economies to booming financial powers. These two examples are what the Arab Spring states must aspire to.

Even if the people experienced a secure lifestyle under autocracy, free regimes do not necessarily bring about economic or security chaos, as promoted by the opponents of democracy. Although the two failed examples of Somalia and Iraq are still vivid in the memory, and prompt us to dread change, there are dozens of examples of countries around the world, including Muslim ones, that have transformed from autocracies to democracies, and which continue to enjoy stability.

Dr. Hamad Al-Majid

Dr. Hamad Al-Majid

Dr. Hamad Al-Majid is a journalist and former member of the official Saudi National Organization for Human Rights. Dr. Al-Majid is a graduate of Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh and holds an MA from the University of California and a doctorate from the University of Hull in the United Kingdom.

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