Today, efficacy is the challenge. When governments don’t deliver, people protest. They don’t want to wait for an election. In fact, as Turkey and Brazil show, they can protest even when, on any objective basis, countries have made huge progress. But as countries move from low to middle income status, the people’s expectations rise. They want quality services, better housing, good infrastructure, especially transport. And they will fight against any sense that a clique at the top is barring their way.
This is a sort of free democratic spirit that operates outside the convention of democracy that elections decide the government. It is enormously fuelled by social media, itself a revolutionary phenomenon. And it moves very fast in precipitating crisis. It is not always consistent or rational. A protest is not a policy, or a placard a programme for government. But if governments don’t have a clear argument with which to rebut the protest, they’re in trouble.
In Egypt, the government’s problems were compounded by resentment at the ideology and intolerance of the Muslim Brotherhood. People felt that the Brotherhood was steadily imposing its own doctrines on everyday life. Across the Middle East, for the first time, and this is a positive development, there is open debate about the role of religion in politics. Despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s superior organisation, there is probably a majority for an intrinsically secular approach to government in the region.