The Phoenix Arises

Can democracy really take root in Egypt?

I’ve written before how unlocking the economic potential of some 350 million Arabs would be a good thing. But there’s no deep-seated democratic tradition in Arab culture. Is it realistic to expect one to grow there?

The same criticism was leveled at Japan some 50 years ago. Truman’s goal of establishing a liberal democracy in a racist nation that nearly subjugated half the world seemed impossibly idealistic, forcefully transplanting a complex Western ideal into an authoritarian culture—like grafting an olive shoot onto a cherry tree. The result, they predicted, wouldn’t work.

But Japan has been peaceful and prosperous these five decades, and has contributed greatly to the world’s prosperity. Japanese companies have been world leaders in terms of innovation, production, and marketing.

Islam is not incompatible with democracy. Turkey has been democratic for decades. An Islamist party there has to compete for votes. Now democratic sentiments are growing throughout the Arab world. Fed by al-Jazeera, the classical Islamic emphasis on justice has become wedded to the notion of freedom. And it isn’t idealistic to link political freedom with economic freedom. Western intellectuals from Tocqueville on have seen the connection between the two.

If Egypt passes peacefully from autocracy to democracy, it will be a beacon to the Arab world. A free Egypt may make people nervous but the crowds there are affirming Western values. It is sensible for us to encourage this.

Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer
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