We may have been better off with the Arab dictatorsImage

When we look at the increasing unrest in the Middle East, one has to ask if we, and certainly the citizens living there, might have been better off living under the dictators who used to rule these Arab countries rather than the massive instability, bloodshed and civil unrest which has replaced them?. One thinks of Mubarak in Egypt, Gaddafi in Libya, and even Saddam in Iraq and maybe even Assad in Syria where 100,000 are now dead and the country is split into different enclaves.

It is now accepted that the Arab Spring has led to the Islamic winter, and worse, but we didn’t know just how bad it was going to get. So was Hosni Mubarak, who was corrupt and who jailed Islamic fundamentalists really so bad, compared to the bloodshed that occurred this week in Egypt, and which will occur again? The country is now sliding into a civil war between the ousted Muslim Brotherhood and the secularists and the army. Not to mention the Christians and other non-muslims who are now targets for Islamic radicals throughout the region. And this is a fact: under dictators like Saddam, Assad and others, minorities were better treated.

It is the same in Iraq where 10 years after the US invasion, the place is still divided right down the middle, and getting worse, with hundreds killed this week, and every other week. Was it not better off with Saddam? Brutal as he could be, kept the lid on the Shi’ite and Sunni split and Kurdish restiveness and prevented the country from falling apart. This also meant that it was a useful counterweight to Iran which is the real menace in the region. Can we honestly say that Gaddafi who held his desert kingdom together through oil money and a set of tribal alliances was not better than the chaos is growing there, and which will get worse with jihadis and clans going their own way?

The real tragedy in Syria is that there was a genuine popular uprising there against the dictator Assad which has now turned into an Islamist jihadi revolt. I have written that there should have been Western aid for the moderate rebels there before this Islamic hi-jacking, but now it looks as if such a moment may have passed. However we still owe it to our common sense of humanity to do all we can to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people as a consequence of this war, which has been recklessly fuelled by Iran and Russia.

But the reality is that, in the absence of a democratic tradition and with deep divisions lying below the surface, a dictator or military ‘strongman’ was often the only way to keep these countries together and keep the genie of violence and fundamentalism in the bottle. The latter is the crucial element: if radical Islam is supported by the majority, as it is in Egypt (or Gaza) then once it wins office through the sort of free elections that we are familiar with, it will try to take over and will find it incapable to recognise minorities and dissent. It cannot help but try to take over and consolidate their rule.  It is a deep religious imperative, not answerable to the ballot box or ‘foreign’ human rights standards, to live according to God’s law and mould society accordingly – in including covering women and banning alcohol. Dictators and secular strongmen, such as Saddam, kept this in check.

Basically, it’s not that we wish to have these sort of people in power. It’s just that the alternative is chaos and bloodshed and we need to think very carefully in future before we call for their overthrow and replacement by a democracy which a country and a culture is not yet ready for. We should also, by the way, stay well out of such civil conflict when it ensues.