Do Monarchies Work?

A long-standing friend of mine worked in the foreign service many years ago. Over time I learned that she was actually a CIA agent honor bound not to discuss her work. She served in many countries, including a few in the Middle East. Once at a dinner party when the discussion became politically hot and heavy, she remarked to me sub-rosa that, “Democracy is not for everybody.” At the time the US was committed to spreading democracy everywhere, including the Middle East. Today, my friend’s words seem prophetic.

In a recent op-ed piece, Thomas Friedman points out the political structure of the UAE and Dubai as absolute monarchies tolerate no opposition or freedom of the press, but which have produced a city touted as the Manhattan of the Arab world. For three years running, Arab youth when asked where each would like to live, 39% answered UAE, 21%, the United States.

Friedman suggests that the reason for the success of Dubai is that it grew out of the culture of the region. The economic and political systems are “home grown”. Neither system was super-imposed. The best that the out-side world can do to promote social justice within those existing systems is to amplify that which supports the Rule of Law. To stress the above, Freidman quotes David Kilcullen, an Australian who served in the Middle East. I like the analogy so much that I think it is worth repeating.

“Just like there is a spark of life in a physical body, there has to be a spark of legitimacy and coherence in the body politic. And, if it is not there, trying to substitute for it is like putting a cadaver on a slab and harnessing a lightning bolt to it to bring it back to life. You end up with Dr. Frankenstein. You can animate a corpse and make it walk and talk, but sooner or later it’s going to go rogue. When you don’t have the local leadership, invading does not make things better. It makes them worse.”

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