The desire for freedom is something hardwired into the fabric of the human soul. Unfortunately, so is the desire for power and control. This tension is playing out today in cities across the Middle East, as protestors eager for reform find themselves targeted by brutal dictatorial regimes. As inspiring as these cries for liberty may be, it is questionable whether stable, authentic democracy will ever triumph in the Middle East. Why? Quite simply, because the region lacks some of the essential cultural foundations necessary for democracy to thrive.
As a recent article in the Washington Post explains, the power elites of the Arab world don't seem to have much genuine enthusiasm for democratic institutions, despite their western intellectual pedigrees:
"The idea that Arab dictators have democrats for sons is surely another myth that has been shattered by the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. Yes, they had traveled widely and attended European universities. And yes their speeches were peppered with words such as "consensus," "dialogue," and "process" – hardly the typical talk of their dictatorial dads. But, as the deans of the London School of Economics learned in February, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi is not a different man because of his tutorials on politics and globalization. When the Libyan people rose up, the young Gaddafi quickly took to the airwaves and promised that his father's regime would fight to the "last bullet."
These young autocrats-in-waiting may have a theoretical grasp of democratic political theory and free market ideas. They know how to talk the talk of liberalism when needed. Indeed, they have undoubtedly benefited from the blessings of liberty as privileged elites exempted from the harsh realities of Totalitarianism. This exposure to liberty cannot compete, however, with a cultural narrative that is fundamentally illiberal.
When one considers the cultural components that allowed for representative government and the rule of law to rise in certain regions of the world, the role of religion cannot be ignored. Take Christianity for example. Heeding Christ's command to "render to Caesar what it Caesar's," Christians value the separation of Church and State. They recognize that there are secular spheres in which the Church should have no power, and likewise jealously defend the Church's right to preside over spiritual affairs unencumbered by any secular political agenda.