Suppression taking its toll

By Dr. Azmi Sharom, The Star

Ruling with an iron fist may work as long as a country is relatively prosperous, but if good governance, accountability and fairness are gone it will only be too easy for poor decision-making and corruption to come in.

I WAS, to use that wonderfully Malaysian term, outstation, last week. The hotel I stayed in did not have any Malaysian channels on its telly, so all I had to watch was CNN, BBC and Al Jazeera.

For the entire week I was there, it seemed that the only news in the world were the protests in Egypt. Oh, and Fernando Torres joining Chelsea.

Watching the Tunisian-inspired protests on Tahrir square convinced me even more about the importance of democracy.
No holds barred: Egyptian anti-government protesters venting their frustrations outside the Parliament gates at Cairo’s Tahrir Square. — AFP

Egypt has been ruled by Hosni Mubarak for 30-odd years. In that time, political dissent had been quashed, elections rigged and democracy sidelined in favour of so-called stability.

This may work as long as a country is relatively prosperous.

However, in general, a lack of democratic principles will only lead to poor governance.

With the elements of good governance; transparency, accountability and fairness gone, it is only too easy for poor decision-making and corruption to take root.

Not exactly the right ingredients for prosperity.

Egypt has been mismanaged to the extent that 40% of its people live below the World Bank poverty line.

Food is expensive; Egypt has to import a large amount of its grains from abroad and is far from self-sufficient.

Amid this suffering, the people see a group of politicians entrenched as leaders and who are tremendously wealthy to boot.

Without the usual organs of a democratic state there is little chance for the citizenry to ensure changes of government and to see justice being done when there is corruption or incompetence or both.

This lack of empowerment will lead to frustration.

Such frustration can of course be suppressed by an iron fist; in the case of Egypt, the Mukhabarat or secret police. However, such suppression can only last so long.

We have seen it before in Indonesia, in the Philip­pines, and currently in Egypt and all over the Middle East.

When the pressure gets too much, people will revolt.

In this part of the world democracy is often portrayed as the opposite of order.

If people are free to speak their minds, if governments are tied to laws that limit their power, we are told that this would lead to chaos and a government too weak to take actions that it thinks are necessary for the good of the nation.

The term that used to describe this philosophy was “Asian Values”.

It is as though we Asians do not “value” our human rights and our civil liberties and the inherent dignity that comes with the power to freely choose who leads us.

It is all of course a great fallacy to think that we simple Asians want to be led by the nose by our glorious leaders.

Just as it is a fallacy to believe that without a true democratic system; a system that will keep government in check, dispense justice fairly and transparently, and empowering the people to have a voice in their own destiny; somehow peace and stability will be ensured.

Egypt, along with numerous other nations, has proven this to be not true.