BBC Radio 4's Analysis: Goodbye Autocratic Allies, was broadcast on Thursday, 1 September, 2005 at 20:30 BST.
Votes for democracy but what about Western friends?
"The US pursuit of stability in the Middle East at the expense of democracy has achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people." Condoleeza Rice, US Secretary of State, speech at the American University in Cairo, 20th June 2005
Condoleeza Rice's comments on a recent tour of the Middle East reflect an apparent new approach to foreign policy by the United States. The US Secretary of State says her government is now putting pressure to introduce democracy on the autocratic regimes it previously helped to keep in power.
This policy has its origins in a small neo-conservative think tank called the Project for the New American Century. Founded in 1997, two of PNAC's founders - US Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld - are now key figures in the Bush Whitehouse. PNAC's aim was to promote "US global leadership" through a foreign policy which promotes American principles and values abroad. Reuel Marc Gerecht, PNAC's former Middle East director, tells Analysis that as Arab dictatorships became more corrupt, he and his colleagues became disillusioned with the traditional belief of US policy makers that the Arab world would follow Turkey with enlightened dictatorship giving way to democracy. Reuel Marc Gerecht believes that if the US fails to promote democracy it risks compromising its own security: "The status quo will continue to breed Bin Ladenism and other forms of Islamic extremism. Democracy will kill that off a lot quicker than another twenty years of dictatorship."
In Britain, Tony Blair has been expressing similar sentiments since 1999 and the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said that the emergence of democracy in post-war Iraq and elsewhere in the region "must be in the interests of the Middle East and in our interests too".
"I'm not frightened of democracy, but you can't have democracy in a region where there's raging anger at injustice across the region. If you are going to spread democracy without doing anything about the underlying problem, you just get chaos and violence. Surely they know this?" Rt Hon Clare Short MP, former Secretary of State for International Development.
Polling evidence suggests that, in the short run at least, elections in the Middle East would produce Islamist, anti-Western and anti-Israeli governments with the potential to destabilise the region. Opinion pollster John Zogby says that the outcome of democracy in the two most powerful countries in the Arab world would probably not please the US or Britain: in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood would probably win, whilst in Saudi Arabia free and fair elections would probably produce a government which maintains the religious conservatism of the current regime but which does not share its support for the West. Israel's security could be threatened as these governments would almost certainly refuse to recognise Israel in its present form and could even start nuclear programmes.
So are Britain and the US really prepared to risk ditching autocratic allies for democratic foes?
In his debut as an Analysis presenter, Hugh Miles, a Cairo-based writer, speaks to policy makers in the US, Britain and Israel and to the sort of Arab political activists who might wield power in a democratic Middle East.
Hugh Miles is the author of Al Jazeera: How Arab TV News Challenged the World.
Rt Hon Clare Short MP, former Secretary of State for International Development
Dr Kim Howells, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Gideon Rose, Managing Editor, Foreign Affairs
Reuel Marc Gerecht, former Middle East director, Project for the New American Century
Ashur Shamis, Libyan journalist and writer
John Zogby, opinion pollster specialising in the Arab world and President/CEO, Zogby International
Dr Kemal El-Helbawi, former member of the leadership of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood
Dr Jonathan Spyer, senior research fellow at the Global Research and International Affairs Center, Herzliya, Israel
Ghada Shahbandar, Shaifincom - Egyptian election monitoring campaign
Sir Harold Walker KCMG, Chairman of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs and former ambassador to Baghdad.
Presenter: Hugh Miles
Producer: Innes Bowen
Editor: Nicola Meyrick