Back in 2011 when the mobs of the Arab spring were busy overthrowing President Mubarak of Egypt, the liberal left and the media were celebrating the rise of democracy across the Middle East.
People power, the leverage of social media and the dawn of a new, happy, prosperous future was forecast for the whole region.
It looks as if the dream of a better future has turned into a nightmare of mob rule and a reinstatement of military control in Egypt, civil war, huge numbers of casualties and massive destruction in Syria and an uncertain future in most of the other countries.
I am overjoyed to see the Muslim Brotherhood removed from power, but concerned at the way it was done by mob rule and a subsequent military coup. Whether we liked it or not, the government of President Morsi was democratically elected. There were no credible allegations that the election was not free and fair.
Allowing an elected government to be overthrown by mob rule is a dangerous precedent with serious implications for some of the struggling Southern European countries. If enough Greek protesters get out on the streets, would that country’s military feel obliged to stage a coup?
The country with the least unrest, most stability and an efficient economy in the region, Saudi Arabia, is also the most autocratic. Attempts at overthrowing the rulers in that country would be resisted quickly and with massive force. Mob rule would be stillborn.
I am not an apologist for Saudi Arabia, I think their treatment of women is awful. But I also think that there is a very good reason that the relative stability in most countries in the region before the “Arab Spring” was only possible with strong dictators as leaders.
For all his faults (and the world is a better place without him) Saddam Hussein kept Iraq functioning without the continual sectarian strife, suicide bombers and rising chaos now developing since the departure of Western troops. He confined his murderous activities to a war with Iran, gassing Kurds and dealing with small numbers of dissidents
Afghanistan is showing similar tendencies. Pakistan has been a much more dangerous place for both its own citizens and those in neighbouring countries since the removal from office of the last military strong man Pervez Musharraf as President.
More parallels in Africa. Harsh tribal rule and no economic development replaced by relative peace, creation of infrastructure and developing economies under strict, efficient, colonial rule. Corruption, brutality and wrecked economies after independence.
Rhodesia, one of the only two countries on the continent with a viable, first world type, economy and a responsible government, thrived for years despite a terrorist war, sanctions, no foreign aid. Then descended into chaos after being forced to hand over power to a corrupt and murderous terrorist government.
30 years later, after record rates of inflation, emigration of 25% of the population, thousands murdered, a ruined economy and its currency abandoned, the former life expectancy has been halved and there is still no semblance of democracy.
The other, South Africa, now heading down the same slippery slope into chaos, currency devalued, a huge brain drain of many of the best and brightest from all population groups, murder rates higher than under the former government. Important industries crippled by political interference in hiring practices and labour unrest.
Why does democracy, with all its faults, work reasonably well in the West and is now working better in many parts of Asia, South and Central America, but not in the regions mentioned above?
The passage of time.
It has taken European societies over 2000 years to nurture and refine systems of government developed by the ancient Romans and Greeks. There were many backward steps on that long road, descents into chaos, invasions by other groups. Religious interference.
It is unrealistic to expect societies that have known no system other than tribal, feudal or dictatorial rule to adopt democracy overnight. When power has been reserved for only the strongest leaders for centuries, often exercised with brutality and cruelty, compassion is seen as weakness.
It is ironic that former ruler Mubarak is about to be re-tried for using force against demonstrators when over 50 of the current crop of demonstrators (demonstrating for the continuance of a more autocratic ruler than Mubarak) were killed by the military this week.
How much better off would Egyptians be today, how many fewer deaths, and how much better the wrecked Egyptian economy, if Mubarak had not been abandoned by his former allies in the West. But instead gently influenced to introduce change at a rate the country could withstand.
Certainly for the liberal proponents of the Arab Spring, a clear demonstration of the law of unintended consequences in action.