Sorry to get serious, but hearing an interview on the radio last night with a Tunisian woman got me thinking...
I've long suspected that the Biggest Problem in the World - the one that underlies all the world's other Big Problems - is not over-population or hunger or poverty or environmental depredation (I'm leaving out 'climate change' this time, even though Radio 4 is about to explain to us that Britain will soon be just like Madeira, with avocadoes hanging from every tree) or ethnic conflict or authoritarian rule or the absence of democracy - no, the Biggest Problem in the World is Corruption, which creates poverty and hunger (and, often, environmental depredation), destroys individual autonomy, undermines the institutions that make civic society possible, erodes the rule of law, takes away all hope of justice, redress or self-advancement from the poorest, and makes democracy meaningless.
The tendency of liberal democratic Western opinion to see social progress in terms of a struggle for democracy seems to me a huge error - what would benefit people far more, and what many are in fact struggling for, is rather an end to corruption. Without corruption, institutions and infrastructure work and people can get on, make a living, buy and sell without endless extortions and payouts draining away the fruits of their enterprise, making the power elites richer and the poor unable to help themselves. Without corruption, great swathes of the globe that are now poor, hungry and desperate would be doing fine. To adapt Clinton's one memorable statement (apart from 'I did not have sex with that woman') - it's the corruption, stupid. The uprising in Tunisia that launched what we foolishly call the Arab Spring was sparked not by activists hungry for Jeffersonian democracy but by a street trader who had finally had enough of corrupt officials taking away his livelihood, and burnt himself to death in his desperation.
Now Tunisia has democracy, and the result is an Islamist government which (among other ominous developments) intends to scrap clauses in the constitution that protect the status of women. And why did people vote the Islamists in? Precisely because they thought that, being religiously motivated, they would be less corrupt than the previous lot. Well they might be - we'll see - but their idea of democracy sure ain't ours, and the thought of a wholly Islamist Middle East ranged around an isolated Israel is not a happy one.