Democratic transition is but one of the missing links in the fight against global terrorism-albeit a very important one. It has been established that oppression and lack of political liberties is a core element fuelling terrorism. When people do not see opportunity to participate in shaping their own future and be heard at one extreme to being branded as traitors/extremists and tortured at another there is very little opportunity beyond radicalisation. Yet what has been our typical response in the west in tackling this issue?

Continued economic/military support for autocratic regimes in the interest of stability irrespective of their track record on basic Human Rights.

What we are actually saying is this; let’s spend billions of taxpayer money on defense to fight terrorism, but let’s allow lobbyist & special interest groups to coerce us into supporting these autocratic regimes for purely financial gains and deals. It is kind of like shooting yourself in the foot before starting a marathon; the only winners here are these interest groups while our security and economy continue to suffer. If we are serious about tackling terrorism (and let’s put migration in the mix) we need to get serious about tackling the root causes of this phenomenon be it on a local level or Foreign Policy level.

It is true to say that we cannot intervene in other countries affairs or impose any form of democratic transition from the outside. This most certainly is not the intention as any change needs to be incremental and adopted internally by each nation and shaped by its internal experiences/social & ethnic composition. However there are a few propositions we can bring to the table as a starting point;

  1. Terminate any level of support/assistance to these autocratic regimes that do not adhere to basic standards of human rights and dignity. We are, I believe, underestimating the impact this approach alone can have in changing the tide in favour of democratic transitions in nations where they have yet to experience such transition or others that are experiencing a reversal of democratic gains after revolution cycles that have yet to complete. We need to abide by our values and practice what we preach-this is not rocket science. We should not be fooled by autocratic regimes that see it convenient to hide behind the banner “Fight Terrorism” to gain validation while continuing to suppress descent when in fact they are complicit in promoting terrorism through their actions.
  1. As a follow up to the point above we need to ensure complete transparency/accountability when it comes to aid/support provided by the UK government to such regimes backed up with proper debate in parliament-no back-door deals.
  1. We need adopt a more holistic approach towards foreign policy in general, particularly where it relates strategic interests for the UK. In my view many policies/positions affecting such critical issues have been largely reactionary and not properly analysed. We need a better mechanism to develop policy that is well analysed, non-partisan and long term.  An independent structure that is geared towards data accumulation from different government agencies, analysis and validation as opposed to mere data collation; this to support the process of strategic policy formulation by the government in power.
  1. We need to encourage, in collaboration with our European partners a strategy to dealing with countries that are undergoing political transition in providing effective assistance/cooperation in dealing with challenges faced in the process-a blue print if you like-covering areas like the following;
  • Socioeconomic exclusion and inclusion
  • Security
  • Economic structure and policies
  • Civil society and media
  • Legal system and rule of law
  • Government structure and division of power
  • Education and demography

This approach has failed to materialise during the so-called Arab Spring and it is due to this lack of support that many of the countries that experienced these revolutions are facing great challenges to this day. Our failure is understandable-we’ve never had to deal with similar scenarios in the past-but we should come to the realization that investment in this new approach can have much better chances for success than dropping bombs and deploying boots on the ground. It is obvious that each country has a unique set of circumstances/experiences, and as such these strategy needs to be adapted for each situation, but it is in my view critical we no longer take a back seat in dealing with these transitions as we do have a big stake in their success, and here is why;

a) An effective approach of fighting terrorism will not succeed unless a form of democratic transition is applied-one the promotes tolerance and basic values of human rights. The concept of favouring stability applied by autocratic regimes over democracy/inclusive form of governance has been demolished for good since 2011 when revolutions began to reshape the Middle East however the level of resistance they seem to experience now-the energy for change is still alive/well and can this can never be reversed. There is also the domino effect involved where we need exert more effort in helping key states achieve this transformation that do have historical regional influence-an example would be Egypt when considering transitions in Middle East. These key states can play a pivotal role in promoting true democratic values that are compatible with cultural/religious fabric of the region.

b) Migration levels to the west (legal or not) is very likely to sky rocket unless core causes of such migrations are addressed. These include military conflict, economic stagnation/inequalities as well as internal political turmoil/oppression.

If we look across the Middle East as a example we’ll find that most of the conflict zones trace their root cause in one degree or another to the failure of democratic transition that is capable of providing an inclusive form of governance-this is the common denominator. There is a genuine fear of change within the establishment and power brokers involved; which is understandable considering history of the region; from Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq and even internal turmoil within rich gulf states the overall scenario is no different. The conventional wisdom suggests that these are internal affairs and transitions should be allowed to take their time. The problem here is that echoes of such slow/violent transitions is slowly becoming louder in the west-as pointed above-this not to mention humanitarian cost which in my mind surpasses any other statistic. It is also important to point out that it has mostly been western policies of the past that have contributed to these regional conflicts so there is a moral obligation for a level of commitment that can help resolve them. It is for this reason we need to take a proactive role by-at the very least-not supporting states that demonstrate they are not serious about taking steps to apply relevant changes to the form of governance. We need apply a 2-tiered approach in exerting our influence in this matter;

  • Ensure any level of economic assistance is tied with undergoing this path (adapted blueprint) towards proper democratic transition and not influenced by lobbyist/interest groups.
  • We need to ensure we have experienced politicians on the ground that are able to gain trust of local power brokers including NGOs and civil society to collaborate in developing a pragmatic roadmap towards democratic transition.

We’ve had a very poor track record in political/military intervention in the past (recent and old history), which in large part has been due to applying double standards in dealing with foreign conflicts thanks to lobbyists and powerful special interest groups. This approach seldom failed to backfire.

As such we need to develop a different more pragmatic/effective and transparent approach when dealing with such foreign conflicts-one that does not clash with our own values. To suggest that citizens of these developing nations do not appreciate the value of democracy/human rights and should expect less from their governments in protecting them is a form of racism-more importantly it does not serve our own interest in the long run as we are slowly beginning to realise.
Reference Points;


Britain lobbied UN to whitewash Bahrain police abuses

‘Sham democracy’ is fueling Africa’s terrorism

Europe Needs to Take a Holistic Approach to Tackling ISIS

Return to reason: reviving political realism in western foreign policy


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