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By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

15 Aug 13. Western Governments had their chance to influence the elected Morsi Government in Egypt following the ousting of the Mubarak regime but apart from the US continuing to supply aid the bottom line is that they fluffed it. Worse perhaps is that when the Morsi Government was ousted in a military coup it seems that rather than condemn the process all that the west could manage was to call for fresh elections. Interestingly the word ’coup’ was rarely heard over here.

Now, following the horrid events in Cairo yesterday when the military and police stormed protestors the west finds itself severely criticised for inaction and now placed in an awkward position. While we in the west might rightly seek to question the legitimacy of the interim administration in Egypt and indeed, of the protestors themselves we are in my view neither in the mood nor in a position to do much to assist those whose hopes of freedom have now been lost other than to extend diplomatic rhetoric and continue to call for new elections.

Whilst the US continues to play an active card in terms of achieving Middle East peace it has less wish today to engage in pushing forward the process of democracy in autocratic states that it did say twenty years ago. Nevertheless, just as we in the UK had done the US welcomed the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ in the hope that nations such as Libya, Egypt and Tunisia that appeared to have achieved new found freedom would then begin the process of laying down foundations of democracy. That of course is exactly the direction that Egypt looked to be heading and with little incentive to halt the process the US remained content to continue supplying £1.3bn of annual military aid.

I suspect that in this debate we need to first remember that it was Egypt’s Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) that had assumed immediate power in the aftermath of Mubarak. It was SCAF that oversaw the transition from military government to elections that brought the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Muhammad Morsi to power. However, when SCAF attempted to limit the powers of the new president the relationship with Morsi broke down.

The result was probably inevitable and if we are to conclude that democracy takes a minimum of one generation to establish itself and maybe as many as three generations to succeed we may, particularly given that it was the population that rose against the elected Morsi as opposed to the military, need to stop short claiming that legitimacy is solely on the side of protesters. It has long been a problem for the west to accept that while we embrace democratic government and the free and unencumbered system of voting that it gives us there are limits to how far and how fast democracy can spread.

Winston Churchill said that ‘democracy was the worst form of government except all those others that have been tried from time to time’ and he had a point. For us democracy works – for China democracy would be an absolute disaster. Democracy worked in the US because it has been there ever since the nation was born. As the country with the world’s second highest population behind that of China it can be said that is the world’s largest democracy. It works there but that does not mean that it is not occasionally tested or that because it works there it should work in Egypt, Libya and Syria as well.

The Arab Spring may have been seen by some in the west as an opportunity to push forward the process of democracy in the Middle East but the reality was always going to be something very different. Unlike dictatorship democracy can never be forced. Lessons in our own past and those of our European allies should have been more than enough to teach us that democracy cannot be built in a year; in a decade and sometimes even in a whole century. For democracy to succeed it has to evolve. In Spain democracy only began to evolve fol

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