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True democracy demands more than the right to vote

The political analyst Francis Fukuyama is convinced that the Arab Spring is going to disappoint the West – at least in the short term. Because even though people gain the right to vote, states can still be rotten.

According to Francis Fukuyama, Libya is one of the countries that will find it hard to fulfil the expectations of the West as far as democracy is concerned – among other things, the country lacks a national identity. The photo shows some of the rebels in the town of Ajdabiya. Photo: Scanpix

He is the man who said that History was dead, and the man who congratulated Western liberal democracy on its victory after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The Bush Administration took his words to indicate support for its invasion of Iraq – even though Fukuyama also referred to the Republican leader as a disaster.
And now Francis Fukuyama, the American politologist and visiting professor at Aarhus University, is generating debate once again with his views on the Arab Spring. He did so at this year’s MatchPoints seminar, with a reinterpretation of his old theory about the spread of democracy.
When Fukuyama published the book The End of History and the Last Man in 1992, he claimed that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of communism meant that the kind of liberal democracy that we have adopted in the West constituted the terminal point in the ideological development of states anywhere in the world. But critics pointed to northern Africa and the Arab Peninsula to prove him wrong. With its Arab and Islamic culture, the Middle East seemed to be immune to the process of democratisation, they said.
This all changed when a frustrated Tunisian greengrocer set fire to himself earlier this year – a tragic event that later proved to be the start of what has become known as the Arab Spring. Fukuyama says that these events show that there is no such thing as an Arab exception. Instead, he claims, it is a universal truth that nobody wants to live under an authoritarian government that does not respect the dignity of the individual – the Arab peoples are no different from anyone else.
But he is careful not to proclaim that the Arab revolutions have succeeded. Angry people are not enough to create a healthy, durable democracy, he says.

A state, the rule of law, and elections

Fukuyama points out that effective democracies rest on three foundation stones: a state, the rule of law, and a responsible system of elections. There must also be a balance between the three: the state needs the support of the people; the law must be based on consensus regarding justice and equality between citizens; and the election system must be a multi-party system with free elections. If the balance between these three factors slips, democracy will slip as well.
Fukuyama claims that it is relatively easy to train an army and a police force so that the power in any country can be concentrated with a view to carrying out the government’s wishes. Easy in theory, at least – the project has failed in Afghanistan, after all. But if power is only exercised with-
out the legitimacy granted by the people, it will end in tyranny. On the other hand, he says, the person who stole the election in the Ukraine is now the president of that country – because the members of the Orange Revolution did not know how to lead, he claims.
According to Fukuyama, good government with the state protecting the interests of the people and fulfilling their needs is extremely important – and in Egypt the only bodies which are sufficiently well organised to perform this task are the army and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The young people from Tahrir Square are the least well organised group in Egypt, he says; adding that what they need is leadership, a party, and a plan outlining what they are trying to achieve.

National identity

Egypt does have one thing that is missing in many of the other countries in the Middle East currently experiencing revolutions (Libya and Tunisia, for instance): a national identity. But there are no democratic rules about how to create this – all the democratic countries in the world today gained a national identity a long time before democracy was introduced.
Fukuyama points out that France has a strong sense of national identity (owing among other things to the French language); but this is only because a previous dictatorship forced everyone to speak French. All the existing borders in the world have been drawn on the basis of religion, race, language or other principles which were established in a pre-democratic stage of development, he claims, adding a word of advice for all modern democracies (both Western and non-Western). He says that modern liberalism should be based on the rights of the individual, but that modern liberal democracies are not culturally free. National identity is necessary if a democratic system is to work. But if it is based on cultural factors that exclude some groups of people, it will be a disaster,
he says.