Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Zine Ben-Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and the still-reigning Muammar Gaddafi of Libya were a great deal closer to leading their countries to become nation-states than Western politicians imagine. Brutal though these dictators were, they were a great deal closer to many of the types of kings and princelings of Europe in the 1500s and onwards (starting with our own brutal King Henry VIII) as they started to prise their regions away from the political power of the Pope and the Medieval Church.
This is not to condone the activities of the above four, of course, but they were all beginning to get on top of the power of Islam which had been previously controlling almost every aspect of their peoples’ minds and daily lives. Even so, they would have had a long way to go. Cultures takes generations to change. Even in Turkey, where Kemal Ataturk (‘father of the Turks’) had established a secular republic in the 1920s, the revolution has still not been unequivocally decided (or else Turkey would have been invited into the European Union years ago).
Indeed, some Islamic countries such as Pakistan, Iraq and Iran seem to be going backwards. Saudi Arabia went backwards with a wallop in 1991. As soon as the last American regiment had left Saudi Arabia to take part in the invasion of Kuwait and Iraq in the Gulf War, the mullahs imposed a Shariah constitution on the royal family. It is reported that King Abdullah and a few other members of the royal family (though certainly not all) would like to carry out a steady programme of reforms, particularly in education, for the benefit of the millions of their young unemployed, but he is bound with chains of ideological steel to the views of the 100,000 Wahhabi mullahs in the country.
As to the other Muslim countries of the Middle East, the ‘stans’ of central Asia, Indonesia (with the largest Muslim population in the world), the Muslim population of India (the second largest population of Muslims), what can one say? I know little enough of these to have any opinion of whether they are likely to go forwards or backwards—that is, in terms of what their young people want by way of Western-type consumer goods and entertainments.
Suffice it to say that, instead of pushing ‘democracy’ at these Muslim countries, Western politicians ought to spend a few week-ends reading the history book of Europe—and even of present-day China—in order to appreciate that scientific education and economic growth comes first before the icing of the cake.