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Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Arab Spring: Democracy against dictatorship?

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Some statistics, trustworthy or not, that confirm fears of ambivalence toward democracy among Libyans—and others:

What if the ‘people’ don’t want democracy?
Sarmila Bose; Al-Jazeera; Feb. 20, 2012

A survey has revealed that the people of Libya may not be keen on democracy after all. The “Arab Spring” has been celebrated in the Western world as a struggle of democracy against dictatorship. Often the implicit assumption was that what the revolutionaries who were trying to overthrow their authoritarian regimes wanted was a Western-style parliamentary democracy. So when only 15 per cent of those surveyed in Libya say they want democracy established in a year, compared with 40 per cent who profess a preference for a “strong leader”, it’s a bit of a let-down for Western cheerleaders of the upheavals in the Arab world. Moreover, apparently only about a third of those polled wanted democracy even in five years’ time.

Most crucial are the figures for those described as “weak democrats” – respondents who expressed support for democracy, but did not reject various non-democratic forms of government. On average in the five South Asian countries [India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka], 52 per cent of respondents were “weak democrats”, indicating a worryingly high proportion of ambivalence about democracy, as these are people who could go either way at any crucial moment of decision about regime type. Even in India, 43 per cent of respondents fell in the “weak democrats” category, not that far off from Pakistan, where the proportion was 49 per cent.

Libya’s recent history is very different from the diverse political experience of South Asia, and Libyans being asked about their political preferences have emerged from a long spell of dictatorship with no direct experience of electoral politics. It is true that they do not know “how democracy works”, but what is interesting is that their ambivalence and inconsistent responses to democracy is shared by many others who do know “how democracy works”, or, indeed, how it doesn’t.

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Written by M. James

February 20, 2012 at 11:37 am

Posted in Culture, Politics

Tagged with , ,

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