EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Ever since 9/11, Western leaders have pushed for democratization of the Arab world. Almost twenty years down the road, the push for democratization has had catastrophic results: With the partial exception of Tunisia, the Arab states whose dictators were toppled are mired in strife or have relapsed into despotism. The time has come to learn from the experiences of South Korea, Spain, and Chile in the mid-to-late 20th century and realize that without a growing economy and a sizable middle class, democracy cannot take root in society.
Western ambitions of planting democracy in the Arab world have failed miserably. Be it after foreign military interventions in Iraq and Libya or after civilian protests in Egypt, Yemen, and Tunisia, the toppling of dictators has hardly given birth to stable liberal democracies, with the respective Arab states sinking into greater strife and barbarism.
This failure was perhaps unavoidable. Liberal democracy is not a panacea for social and economic problems. Nor can democracy thrive in extremely challenging social and economic conditions. The belief that the successful democratization of post-World War II Germany and Japan could be replicated in the Arab world ignored the fact that democratization in Yugoslavia paved the way to civil war and ethnic cleansing. Because Arab countries are far more similar to Yugoslavia than they are to postwar Germany and Japan, it was foreseeable that democratization in that part of the world would aggravate social and ethnic tensions rather than heal them.