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The worst form of government

Mar 04,2014 - Last updated at Mar 04,2014

Winston Churchill once said that: “Democracy is the worst form of government — except for all the others that have been tried.”

His cynicism was perhaps justified after the British people voted him out from his position as prime minister within months of winning World War II.

Whether it is the worst form of government or not, there is little doubt that the alternatives are worse. Suppressing people’s views through dictatorship or tyranny means the rule of a narrow minority over the rest.

Imposing stability through fear is not the best way to provide the security, prosperity and growth that will make people’s lives better.

True stability means giving people a voice in the way they are governed, to back the individuals and the policies that they deem capable of making their lives better; and removing governments that fail to deliver.

That connection between the people and their government is pivotal, especially at difficult times. Democracy is not only about elections; it is also about creating and encouraging the building blocks of an open and fair society: the rule of law, protection of minorities, strong political parties, liberty, free media, a strong role for civil society and action against corruption.

Building these democratic institutions takes time. Countries like the United Kingdom have been doing it for hundreds of years.

England went through a vicious civil war 350 years ago, which culminated in parliament executing the king. France went through a bloody revolution over 200 years ago and also ended up guillotining the monarch.

These are not necessarily great examples for other countries to follow! But they illustrate the fact that democracy takes time. It is a process not an event.

There will inevitably be bumps along the road. And it will mean continually adjusting to new demands for better ways to deliver governments that can govern effectively.

Evolution is better than revolution. And peaceful protest is better than rebellion.

The Arab world has seen revolutions and rebellions in the last three years in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and the ongoing tragedy of Syria. It has been those countries that have accepted the need for incremental change, like Jordan and Morocco that have retained their stability.

A common theme in all these countries has been the demand for dignity: that people should not be humiliated by violent suppression, but participate effectively in their governance. Responding to this demand is essential.

Change takes time. There will always be resistance: those people who have been used to political and economic privileges are not always keen to give them up. But it is impossible to keep all the people happy all the time.

Responding to the demands and aspirations of people for reform is a fundamental component of stability. Equally, democracy requires people to have the freedom to challenge policy and criticise those who are driving it.

The conspiracy theorists seem to believe that countries outside the Arab world want to interfere in the way countries develop their democracies.

Interference is wrong: each country has to respond to the demands of its people in its own way. There is no Western model.

Democracy must be built on the history, traditions and political culture of each country in its own way.

What other countries can do is share experience. Bring lessons of what worked and what did not. Show that achieving lasting positive change is the work of many generations. And illustrate the fact that it is worth the effort. That each country can achieve, not the best form of government, nor the worst, but the one that works for it.

The writer is British ambassador to Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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