In defense of propping up dictators

A German prof takes a daring line on Egypt


Ever since the popular uprising rocked Egypt, European and North Americans have succumbed to a bout of hand-wringing. Why on earth did our governments prop up Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship for so long? Now, German politics professor and commentator Herfried Munkler offers a daring answer: because that was the wise policy. Munkler doesn’t have much time for “melancholy self-doubt.” “The pitfall with this kind of retrospective reflection,” he writes, is that it “creates the impression that there was a direct, clean and decent course of action, and that the only reason it was not taken is that the Europeans were paying too much attention to their own interests.” He disputes whether it would have made any sense to support alternatives to stable, autocratic regimes—unless and until those more democratic options looked ready to create credible new power structures. “It is politically unwise to bet on the development of a democratic order in places that lack the necessary structural preconditions, and where democracy is constantly in danger of turning into a civil war or an open military dictatorship. Politically speaking, the milder, patrimonial rule of an autocrat is preferable to either of those options.” That’s not the sort of viewpoint likely to meet with much approval in these heady days of hope for change in the Middle East. But it is a useful, thought-provoking counterbalance to the prevailing optimism.

Der Spiegel

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In defense of propping up dictators

  1. While loudly promoting the 'idea' of democracy, we're not very happy when one actually threatens to break out.

    It threatens our comfy way of life.

    Change….so unsettling.

    The point we all miss is that it's up to the inhabitants of that country to determine their govt….however we could at least agree with Egyptian protesters that freedom is a good thing.

    • You may not be happy if a democracy breaks out, but most people would be, and it may threaten your comfy way of life but a democracy would not threaten most people.

      I agree that you're missing the point, but not that 'we' are missing the point. Freedom is a good thing, and to the extent that some protesters are demanding it that's great, however, 'we' know that the Muslim Brotherhood is one of the best organized opposition forces despite their current low-profile.

      It is entirely possible that the protesters will not get democracy or freedom, if Islamist forces manage to gain power they will get mysoginist dictators and summary executions – just like Iran, that is what everyone fears.

      It is unfortunate that the money borrowed by the West and given to the Mubarak regime wasn't tied to building democratic institutions from the ground up over the years, that will make it much more difficult for Egypt to become a democracy now.

      • Your fears are your problem, not mine.

        • Well obviously you don't care a whit about the people in Egypt, so you should keep your narrow-minded navel-gazing 'we' pronouncements to yourself.

  2. Shorter Munkler: "At least the boot on their necks is our boot."

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