We discussed exporting democracy in a live global interactive phone-in.
President Bush has made a speech calling for democracy and freedom across the Middle East.
Speaking at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, he said that the failure of democracy in Iraq would embolden terrorists around the world.
He also spoke of the need for democracy in countries such as Syria, Iran, Burma and China.
However, some governments were "beginning to see the need for change", he said, citing Morocco, Bahrain, Oman and Yemen.
But is democracy good for the world or is it an example of cultural imperialism?
BBC News Online, BBC World Service Radio and American National Public Radio stations brought together opinions from around the world in a global interactive phone-in from London.
What does democracy mean to you where you live? Is flawed democracy better than none at all? Has the west created the ideal model, the liberal democracy? Or is the democratic process unworkable as a universal model?
This debate is now closed. Thank you for your e-mails. The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:
If the dictatorial governments in the Middle East didn't spawn and support terrorists I doubt that the Western 'democracies' would care what path they took. It is the export of terrorism that is prompting Bush & Blair to try to democratise the ME in a belief that that system would take away the terrorists. It is sadly a lost cause as even democracy could not span the cultural gap that exists.
I think that "President" Bush said it best during the campaign, "I don't believe the role of America is to go around the world saying 'that's the way it's got to be'". Now if only he had listened to himself...
Ian R, Ohio, USA
What kind of democracy do the Americans want for us in the Middle East? What freedom do they intend to grant us?
The Americans claim that they are in the ME to liberate the Iraqis; yet they say they will not allow an Islamic government in Iraq.
We have seen the democratic process in operation for the last 50 years in Israel which started by expelling the Palestinians from their lands- and to tell you the truth; it has put us off democracy for life.
Nizam Yagoub,Saudi Arabia
From the experience of most African countries, I can safely say that Democracy is not the most important thing for any one country. As long as people have food on their tables, clothing in their wardrobes, and a roof above their head, the system does not matter. I have always thought that the most important tenet of democracy is self-governance; followed by the freedom of choice.
Why shouldn't Mr Bush leave the Middle East to govern themselves, and let them choose what political system they want. That is what democracy is: "rule of the people, for the people, by the people", and not "rule of the people, for the people, by the United States of America". In Zambia we democratised a long time ago, but we are still poor. Look at the so-called undemocratic nations of the Middle East, they are stinking rich!
Mwansakunda, Lusaka, Zambia
An ever increasing majority of people in the Middle East is becoming anti-American; mainly due to the disastrous policies of Mr Bush. But, in general, their regimes are pro-American. So when one hears Mr Bush expound his democracy thesis, one does get the feeling...."Phoney!!"
R.Subramanyan, Chennai; India
Democracy - 'The people's right to choose the next lot of politicians to muck them around with their political ideals, for the peoples own good. Whether the people want it or not.'
Steve G, Trowbridge, Wiltshire
Most Americans seem to have a very naive outlook with regards to democracy. It seems they can get out of their trucks, throw sweets at the children, smile at the adults and suddenly everything will be hunky dory and the whole country will love them and chant their name - USA! USA! USA! The world isn't so simple, and the sooner they realise this, the sooner they can go about making REAL change rather than creating a whole new generation of potential anti-US leaders and citizens.
Freedom and democracy, as espoused by Thomas Jefferson, is an American ideal, or their dream if you like. It is only good for states that have attained a certain level of political maturity. In countries where political instability and poverty is still the order of the day, it would be suicidal to forcefully impose democratic rule and try to make it work in a short span of time.
Desmond Chan, Singapore
Of coarse democracy is possible in the Middle East. The only stumbling block are the regimes that the US has propped up for generations.
I am supportive of Bush`s vision of democracy.But in particular I support a friendship between
Putin and Bush for I realise that now it`s a very important thing because this situation around the Yukos( oil company). It's a very difficult test of friendly relationship of the U.S.A and Russia.
Bush's democracy for the Middle East parallels Britain's 'white man's burden' in the 19th Century. As with his imperial predecessor, economic, political and personal, rather than altruistic, reasons will select the countries for democratisation.
The US does not have the economic resources nor the moral authority to impose an American Century on the world and will exhaust itself in the attempt.
Dave Vause, Washington DC, USA
I am an American citizen. I took a foreign wife after the Sept 11th attacks. I have had to deal with the delay in immigration procedures here in America and it has cost me several thousand dollars in lawyers' fees and lost financial aid for school.
However, I have still yet to see where my "civil rights" have been stifled by the current administration. So I have to wait a little longer for my wife's residency. So flying is a little less comfortable. So what?
The majority of the anti-Bush rhetoric is dreamt up by upper-middle class liberal yuppies, people so secure in their economic status that I sincerely doubt they incur ANY true hardships in their everyday lives.
Seth M. Holton, America
If without democracy you can get the same or higher quality of life than the Americans, what makes it necessary to embrace democracy, particularly that version imposed by the US?
Kunrat Wirasubrata, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
It is not everywhere that western democracy can work especially in the middle east.
Mustapha Adakawa, Gombe, Nigeria
After 25 years in various countries in Africa, I do not recommend a swift change to the ancient regimes in Africa, but an intermediate soft dictatorship with a preparation for future democracy.
Asselberghs Dirk, Abidjan, Ivory Coast
Democracy is when each person feels that he/she has the power/freedom to change and to make a difference in their own environment. Any governments take care their own interests, we don't have to wait for them. If we feel powerless we are not any freer and others are going to take advantage of us.
Gianluca D'Ippolito, Miami, USA
The reason there appears to be a movement toward democracy in the world is because of revised definition. The bar has been so lowered as to what constitutes a "democracy" that many very undemocratic countries are now counted "democracies" by the Bush administration. The word has become all but meaningless. Like "human rights" it is only trotted out when politically expedient.
Robert, El Prado, USA
I think we should rename him Dublya Standards Bush.
Arvind Nangia, Singapore
There's no such thing as a "perfect society." There will always be dissent amongst the population in a nation. But, under democracy we should notice more favourable opinions of government operations and less dissenting voices. Right? This is not happening in America. Therefore, the notion that America tries to impose its "democracy" on other nations is laughable. Democracy is about listening to the peoples' voices at home, not in other nations.
Adrian Chase, Walnut Creek, CA
Those here who are outraged that Bush would dare "impose" democracy, wouldn't stand for anything less in their own countries. More than a bit hypocritical. The critics need to distinguish the end (democracy) from the means (the US).
All political systems are appropriate under the right circumstances and all can be fair and just. It is people who are unfair not the system. Democracy is suitable for our industrial nations but is it suitable everywhere? Bush has merely replaced one unfair regime with another. Only time will tell which is worse.
I am unclear of when the rules changed for who decides the kind of government or system a country has in place. I was under the impression that the country decided for itself? Prividing there is no gross human rights issues; it was my understanding that countries have a right to govern themselves. In my opinion we do not have the right to impose our system of government onto others. To suggest that we have no corruption, or 'potential terrorists' in democratic countries is ridiculous. Adrienne
I don't believe the US government has the right to tell other countries what form of government they need, just as other countries don't have the right to tell the USA what kind of government it needs. This arrogance and complete disregard of other countries/cultures and their right to autonomy is typical of the Bush regime.
Jon Schmidt, Atlanta, USA
To Jon Schmidt, Atlanta, USA: The difference between the Saddam Hussein "regime" and the Bush "regime" is that I helped elect the Bush "regime." And I'm going to get the chance to re-elect the Bush "regime" next year. Now that Saddam is gone (thanks to the Bush "regime") Iraqis can choose their own government. That's democracy, and it's good precisely because the Iraqis (not the US or the UN or the Bathists) get to decide.
To Shane, USA,
You may have helped elect the Bush regime, but the majority of people in this country did not, therefore, your argument falls a little flat.
As I watch our civil rights eroded by our nation's attempts to stop terrorism, I wonder what kind of democracy we are really trying to impose on Iraq. I remain unconvinced that Mr Bush has a clear plan for the future of Iraq.
Bush talks about democracy in the Middle East, maybe he should look a little closer home.
Steve Davis, Melbourne, Australia
How dare Bush dictate to the Middle East the form of government they should adopt! The US presence in Iraq is still being questioned by the international community. Right now, they are considered invaders of foreign soil.
Janet Paulin, Philippines/Australia
The idea of establishing a democracy in another nation is inherently hypocritical. For the idea of a democracy is that is run by and for the people. Thus establishing a government there that is not established by the people is not a democracy, but a democratic dictatorship. The only way to create a truly democratic government is let the people decide whatever they want. If in the American Revolution, France had told us how to run our government, we would have gotten infuriated. Can we not have the same courtesy and let others do the same thing and make something of their own?
Richard Hermerding, Chicago, United States of America
After 10-15 years of living in “democratic” Russia, where Western style democracy was imposed, I can say that I would prefer our former socialist country.
In my opinion the West just bribed our authorities to disband former Soviet military complex.
I think that the West, and particularly the United States, has no business trying to inflict western-style democracy on other peoples and cultures. At best it is ignorance of other's cultural values and concepts. At worst it actually does constitute an example of cultural imperialism. Iraq is a good example of that. The US said that the Iraqi people were free to set up their own form of government and then hand picked Iraqis who would make sure that the form of government to be chosen will be a capitalistic western democracy.
Jim Jensen, Philippines
Jim Jensen, Philippines stated that the US "hand-picked Iraqis who would make sure that the form of government to be chosen will be a capitalistic western democracy". This is completely false. The US has always insisted that the only acceptable form of government in Iraq is a Democracy, representative of all of it's many diverse peoples. Any other form will not be accepted. Common people benefit from democracy, only dictators and their cronies benefit from dictatorships, communism or theocracies.
Democracy is unworkable as a universal model. This is because many people in the world have lived under dictatorships, benign or otherwise and live a life where the concept of democracy is meaningless. When one is working in the paddy fields and living a subsistence life, democracy is a luxury. Feeding oneself and family is the primary factor. As the world population increases, it is difficult to see where democracy will fit in all of this. The ex-prime minister of Singapore once said that "guided democracy" was the answer and this will probably be the case for many countries. True democracy is a luxury that only wealthy countries can afford. Even then, one only has the freedom (democracy) one thinks one has.
Michael, Brisbane, Australia
Western democracy has its roots in the industrial revolution and a general disenchantment with the church and Christian morality which was seen as being too restrictive and so much cant and hypocrisy. Today's version of western democracy has been aptly called the One Dimensional Society. It has marginalized core values and unleashed a regime of sloth and opportunism. It has created a society where money-power is everything and everything is sacrificial to the altar of wealth.
Western democracy is definitely not the future the world should aspire for.
Jasabanta Choudhuri,Kolkata, India
Democracy is essential for Western countries because we now have it, and have leaders and an electorate who understand and want democracy. But that is because we are 'advanced' enough morally and psychologically and socially. We have developed this system for ourselves and to our requirements. But these states which have been forced to take on democracy have not had the history or got the understanding of the system. They do not have the social institutions or the market capitalism essential to the survival of democracy. After all, democracy took an extremely long time to develop over here and we have to consider all this when providing a different state with a system of governance.
Christopher Hawes, Colchester, Great Britain
I'm put in mind of a quote I saw on a message-board.
"Democracy: The mistaken belief that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time."
I don't exactly believe it, but it does make me think whether "our" way of doing things is any better (or worse) than anyone else's.
Andy Kitching, Leeds, UK
Democracy, defined as a maximized popular participation in the decision making process, or governance, has, in the course of the last few decades become, a universal expectation. It is neither eastern or western anymore, and there is no such a thing as a western-style or an eastern-style, not to mention an Islamic or Christian or Jewish-style democracy, unless we are referring to institutional variations. The main point is to respect the basic rights of all citizens, and to accommodate all differences. This where democracy is posing a problem for certain parts of the world. That is, in its (in)ability to accommodate certain traditional cultural values. Now, this might be a problem related more to modernity per se rather than democracy, but it does indeed have quite a few implications for democratization.
So, which should be modified, or adjusted, to accommodate which - democracy or tradition?
Bearing in mind the definition presented above, it should be clear that any attempt to limit democracy would lead to disenfranchising certain segments in the society concerned. As such, it is clear that the onus of change is on tradition. And traditions take time to change.
Ammar Abdulhamid ,Damascus, Syria
Democracy, in its purest form is applaudable and it is necessary for the preservation of human rights and freedom. However, it may not always be appropriate for a particular country. For the fruits of democracy to be realised, the society in general must have a certain level of political maturity. In a country like India, democracy can stifle economic growth as there are too many opposing views.
Eustace Fernandez, Singapore
Different situations demand different systems of government. For instance during wartime even the so-called western democracies give special powers to governments in order to make more effective. Prerequisites for democracy to work is that the citizens of the state have a relatively high living standard (so that they don't have to "sell" their vote), that they are educated, that they are informed about there society and that they get involved in social affairs. Unless these prerequisites exist no democracy can work and instead there is either oligarchy of the rich, or the mob rules.
Xrysa Mihliz, Athens Greece
I don't believe that democracy is something you can export. All the countries that enjoy a democratic environment arrived there under their own steam. The western model of democracy may not suit everyone, we do seem to be quite arrogant in assuming that it will.
To Nathan, US: Thank you for your excellent insight into history. By the way, is this part of the on-going process of rewriting history by the US - such as democracy was invented by the Americans? The rest of the world would be grateful to be out of this process of enlightenment, especially after reading your 'thoughtful' interpretation of the French Revolution.
Tridiv Borah, Germany
As the definition of the government goes thus, "A government is of the people, for the people, by the people." so may we examine which system of the government contains all these?
A.R Shams, Hyderabad, Pakistan
I believe in democracy, it is the right way forward for any country, which is why I believe we need a significant overhaul of politics in the UK.
Democracy as a form of governing is good for people who are either well educated or have grown-up with it and thus able to handle the liberties it brings. The vast majority of people globally have not grown up with it and cannot handle it correctly. Unfortunately the non-democratic governments and especially religiously influenced governments do everything in their power to avoid people getting used to real democracy. Flawed democracy like the US democracy is good if the people want it but should not be exported to replace real democracy.
Mikko Toivonen, Finland
The most powerful force in the west is the USA. Many black voters were incorrectly struck off the voting register in the last US election, mainly in the state where the brother of the 'elected' president held power. There's a big question mark over whether democracy exists in the west.
Andy, Notts, UK
Certainly any democratic institutions are better than none. This is both comforting and unnerving. Comforting for a time because citizens can benefit from a level of freedom not realised under any other system. On the other hand, because these freedoms breed complacency, this in turn invites attacks on democracy from within.
The United States, in my opinion has long forfeited its right to label itself a democracy. Its political institutions are controlled by powerful lobby groups who are successfully able to leverage the media to control public opinion. Lobby groups represent minority interests and are by their very nature undemocratic. In a true democracy a political candidate would neither require hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funding nor in a population of 300 million would he likely be the son of a former president.
Jason Kristiansen, Melbourne, Australia
There is a perception in many parts of the world that western democracy IS cultural imperialism, and this is a serious dilemma. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has not presented it in a very positive light, seeming to ram ideas down people's throats.
Murton Edelstein, New York, NY USA
The American people, by-and-large, do seem to have a genuinely democratic outlook. But as democracies go their own system of government is very, very deeply flawed. From the electoral college and the two-senators-per-state rule, both of which give disproportionate weight to less populous and usually more conservative states, through to the laughable election campaign finance rules, which give politicians representing the wealthy such a huge spending advantage over their rivals, Americans are ruled by a system of government that often frustrates the will of the people, rather than implements it.
Mark MacCallum, New Zealand
Although politically convenient it is incorrect to assume that Western style democratic government is the sole reason for our perceived affluence and freedoms in Europe and America.
If you take a close look at the structure of Government in all European countries and the US all systems differ markedly; what is similar in these countries is the Economic system.
The system of Government in Singapore can only be called democratic in the loosest possible sense of the word but since independence Singapore has developed into a nation of affluent, well educated people with an infrastructure that is probably better than most Western states. However, the series of checks and balances that democracy together with a stable social and economic system brings is to my mind the best we have at the moment.
Jon Simpson, Singapore
It is a fallacy to speak of democracy as something concrete. It's far better to speak of degrees of civil liberties, freedoms of expression, accountability and honesty in government. Western democracy does not exist and has never existed. The proof is in all "fake democracies" around the world (see how time and time again the rich get off the hook, the middle class keeps paying taxes, and poor are hammered without mercy ). So-called democracy is, in fact, an arrangement of convenience by the few that govern the many. God alone is the only one who can impart true democracy and justice in morally, ethically, and unjust world.
Johnny Franco Arboine, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
The question is a bit misleading. In democracy the people decide for themselves. Democracy is always a work in progress. Any democratic system can be westernized or dewesternized if the people wish the model to evolve in a particular direction. It is far easier to say that fascism and communism are models created in the west than it is to say the same about democracy. Democracy tends to be good for the people and bad for aristocratic, dynastic élites.
Topi Lappalainen, Helsinki, Finland
If the West believes so much in democracy, why they do not implement this in UN? How many dictatorships have been supported by the West?
Fakher, Finland / Palestine
I would like to think that western democracy is not bad but I think its the way the western countries seem to put it across. They are not consistent hence the failure by other peoples to appreciate it. If there was/is human abuse in Iraq, Israel or any other country the western countries should treat it as such and not turn a blind eye.
John Imani, Harare, Zimbabwe
It is natural to members of western nations that democracy seems to be the only logical and right solution. To other nations, with different cultural, religious and historical heritage it may seem that the best solution for them is also democracy, but with their own flavour - not strictly "western". And it definitely shouldn't be imposed by force or in some "instant" form and expect mature democracy after a year or two.
Democracy is far from perfect, but thus far it's the best we have come up with.
What is definitely wrong is trying to impose democracy on people who are not willing or not ready to have it, for whatever reason.
The only people who would answer 'no' to this obvious question are the Nazis, Fascists, Communists, Socialists and other groups in this world who don't believe in the individual's right to freedom! The price you pay for living in a democracy is that society is not perfect. Let's not forget that many world leaders of the past like Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein tried to create a "perfect society" and look what they became.