According to the newest Pew Global Attitudes survey, which has just been published, people around the world prefer democracy to autocracy and dictatorship. All throughout the Middle East, which is still in the throes of reform and where the outcomes are still uncertain, the great majority of people surveyed in Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia have indicated that they prefer the democratic process of choosing their leaders, in all of its messiness, to the autocratic governments under which they were previously ruled.
What is interesting about the responses in these states is that with the exception of Egypt, the response would seem to indicate some social and institutional memory. Turkey has had a parliamentary democracy since 1923, and despite periodic interventions by the military, and a current lean toward a more Islamist orientation, its government enjoys overwhelming popular support. Tunisia had a democratic government for thirty years until it was gradually supplanted by the authoritarian Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was deposed in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011. Lebanon has been independent since 1943, and despite its own periods of civil war, it has repeatedly returned to parliamentary democracy.
Nevertheless, democracy remains a fragile thing. In Russia and Pakistan, a majority of citizens queried in the Pew survey expressed a preference for more authoritarian rule, and as we have noted in previous months, this shift toward authoritarianism appears to be a spreading virus that is contaminating neighboring states that also have limited democratic histories – nations such as Belarus and the Ukraine, which were originally part of the old Soviet Union, and some of the “stans”, which also had a relationship with the rodina. Pakistan has been an independent parliamentary state since its founding in 1948, but its government has been overthrown so many times, and control has so rested with the military and intelligence services that it is tempting to say that Pakistan has little real democratic history and tradition upon which its citizens can draw.