Archive for February, 2011

Some thoughts on the West and democracy in Africa and West Asia

One of the narratives that has come about in response to the uprisings in Africa and West Asia is that the Western world needs to intervene to either protect the protesters or to help consolidate any emerging democracies. Jack Layton, the leader of Canada’s federal left-of-centre-left New Democratic Party, spoke at a rally for Egyptian freedom on February 5, 2011, and said that Canada and Canadians could offer

… to help the people of Egypt to construct … democracy using the knowledge and expertise that we have developed over so many years — which has fallen into some disuse lately. Bring our troops back home from Afghanistan and let’s start being envoys for peace in places like Egypt.

Clifford Orwin is a professor of political theory at the University of Toronto. Unlike Layton, he is a supporter of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Orwin often writes opinion pieces for the Globe & Mail. His latest opinion piece is also featured on the home page of the department of political science.

In it, Orwin argues that uprisings do not straightforwardly lead to establishing and maintaining democracies:

… disgust with despotism, poverty, inequality and corruption is the easy part of the revolution. Lofty hopes don’t suffice for successful self-government, and may undercut it…. What’s needed is the development of institutions of civil society – schools for the practice of democracy.

Decades of repression, or government co-optation of oppositional movements, has led to a shell of a civil society. The people of Tunisia and Egypt have no experience “managing complex affairs.”

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