Morocco has been liberalizing for some years, and held fairly aboveboard parliamentary elections in 2002. Yet liberalizing Morocco produced the al-Salafiyyah al-Jihadiyyah group in Tangiers that committed the 2003 Casablanca bombings and the 2004 Madrid train bombings.

Moreover, if democracy means majority rule and the expression of the general will, then it won’t always work to the advantage of the U.S. Bush administration spokesmen keep talking about Syrian withdrawal being the demand of the “Lebanese people.” But 40 percent of the Lebanese are Shi’ites, and 15 percent are probably Sunnis, and it may well be that a majority of Lebanese want to keep at least some Syrian troops around. Hezbollah has sided with Syria and Sheikh Nasrallah has called for a big pro-Syrian demonstration by Shi’ites on Tuesday.

For true democracy to flourish in Lebanon, the artificial division of seats in parliament so that half go to the Christian minority would have to be ended. Religious Shi’ites would have, as in Iraq, a much bigger voice in national affairs. Will a Lebanon left to its own devices to negotiate a social compact between right-wing Christians and the Shi’ite Hezbollah really be an island of stability? ~Juan Cole

Prof. Cole makes several fine points in his article, of which these are just a few, and I would like to consider the last question in the quote above a little bit more. I am reminded again of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s observation that democratic government will fail where there are sharply contrasting and opposing worldviews in the same society. There can be no consensus where there are firmly traditional Catholics and social democrats, for example, or where there are communists and monarchists. Likewise, obviously, deep sectarian and religious divisions can set groups apart just as much as political ideologies. Though such a democratic regime relies on compromise and a willingness to accept the other faction in power for a time, diametrically opposed or hostile groups cannot sustain such compromise for very long. (Everyone worried about American ‘democracy’, so called, can breathe easy, as there is an increasing convergence, verging on homogeneity, in our politics.) The very success of democracy, namely representing the ‘real’ desires of constituents, is as often its destruction as the failure to “listen” to “the people,” as the constituents may very much desire to subjugate, drive out or kill their political enemies.

In truth, it is probably only the artificial structure of the constitution, arbitrarily inflating the political power of the Maronites, that has prevented another civil war from breaking out. With declining birthrates, the Maronites would be forced into an increasingly marginal position if their political power matched their numbers, as a “real” democracy would require, and they might find warfare a better way to extract concessions than engaging in an electoral process that promises diminishing returns for their community.

If the artificialities in the constitution are scrapped, these minority communities will soon be faced with the prospects staring the Iraqi Sunnis in the face today: come to some arrangement with the overwhelmingly larger coalition of political forces in the country, resulting in a marginal and much-diminished role, or force concessions from them by fighting. One thing I would add to Prof. Cole’s analysis is that war and terrorism sometimes appear as the most rational course of action in terms of a group’s self-interest, and promising them democracy will not persuade such a group otherwise. He is quite right that hoping in democracy as some panacea to underlying structural and political conflicts is foolish and will be unsuccessful.

If the problems facing the Near East are the result of a lack of structural, economic and political modernisation, then I assure you the last thing one would want to do would be to democratise these countries, as democracy may often be corrosive of traditional authority and religious tradition but it is also equally capable of being a bulwark against any attempts at major reform or change. It is normal, and quite often very healthy, to be skeptical of change, especially when it is on a large scale and threatens to uproot the old way of life; whether or not the old way of life can be shown to provide as much ‘prosperity’ or ‘development’ or some other standard by which traditional or half-modern societies will always be found wanting is not the question. People who are attached their way of life will resent having to change it and may turn even more inward and reject reforms as yet another stage of colonialism or oppression. Newly empowered masses are usually the last ones interested in delaying their gratification and enduring painful processes of reform, processes that they often associate, rightly or wrongly, with the technocratic elites who denied them their power for so long.

Nonetheless, whether or not there is such a democratic hostility to the necessary reforms, it will be those structural and economic reforms, and attention to the pressing problems of overpopulation, access to water, education, accommodating greater industrialisation and managing the increasing urban populations of the developing world that will determine whether these societies make successful transitions or not. Whether they are poorly governed by the corrupt men whom they have elected or who rule over them by fiat will matter little in the end.