In his recent address to the British Parliament at Westminster, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a point of referring to Israel as the “only true western democracy” in the Middle East. Mr Harper’s stance seems to be to be very unhelpful, as there are many democracies in the Middle East. Democratic government is well established in Turkey. Democratic rule was restored in Lebanon in 1990 after decades of civil war. Democratic government was established in Iraq after the downfall of Saddam Hussein, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. Brand new democratic governments have emerged from the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, and are still trying to figure out what shape their constitutions will take.
And yet Mr Harper says that only Israel is a "true western democracy". The implication here is that Israel has legitimacy, and is deserving of support, while other countries in the region lack legitimacy and do not deserve support. For me, this raises several questions: What shortcomings do the other Middle Eastern democracies have that denies them the legitimacy of "true western democracies"? Should we engage these other democracies to assist them in correcting these deficiencies, or just write them off? By what right do we decide that one country's approach to democracy (or any other form of government) is better than another's? The Arab Spring democracies are still trying to write their constitutions - should we assume that they won't meet Mr Harper's measure for Western Democracy? Is our approach to democracy so much better that we should be telling other countries what gives a government legitimacy?