Do the People of the MENA Prefer Dictators Over Democracy?

Two years ago, the Arab Spring unknowingly took the Middle East and North Africa by storm. Sparked by Mohamed Bouazizi's death that generated the overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia, those actions spread to Egypt where Hosni Mubarak stepped down during an 18-day revolution. Then Libya and Yemen followed not far behind, with an ongoing civil war in Syria that knows no end.

Despite the many lives lost and the sacrifices made, there is still evidence of a longing for the past, in particular a longing for the dictators of the past.

It never seizes to amaze me how often I hear, "Mubarak is good!" in Cairo. I have heard the same echo in Tunis, "Ben Ali, very good!" my taxi driver Khaled explained while giving me a thumbs up, days after the second anniversary of the Tunisian revolution.

In Egypt, those who have sympathies with the old regime and its members -- the National Democratic Party (NDP) -- are called Felool, "corrupt, political remnants of the former regime." At first, the term became associated with the upper classes that supported the Mubarak regime instead of the January 25th Revolution; eventually it would describe Mubarak supporters regardless of social or economic status. Now, the term is so redundant that anyone who disagrees with certain aspects of the revolution are deemed Felool.

According to activist and journalist Wael Eskandar, in one of his blog entries from October, "Looking back at recent events, it wasn't 'Felool' who were working against the interests of the Egyptian people by promising to lift subsidies. It wasn't Felool who sanctioned the arrests and imprisonment of numerous people for the preposterous charge of 'defaming religion' - including two children aged nine and ten. It wasn't Felool who responded to chants with violence just a week prior. In fact, many of them have been absent in every way except for the continued rhetoric of blame used in daily discourse, and more notably, in the news about attempts by the current regime to reintegrate them into political life or the ailing economy. That enemy no longer exists or rather has no clout."

Felool was more of a term describing a ghost of some sort, an ideologue. But this does not attempt to explain the different classes and their longing for the iron fist that promises a sort of clarified stability. Does this mean that some people prefer dictatorships over democracy? Or are they unwilling to change?

When Mubarak ruled for thirty years, he used the fear of Islamic radicalism and instability to put forth his agenda, but it finally grew old for many. With the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and no end in sight when it comes to stability, some reflect on Mubarak's words and wonder if he was truly the better of two evils.

Although some like to compare President Mohamed Morsi with toppled President Hosni Mubarak, there are variations between the two.

"Mubarak had full control over the state, so you could effectively measure his condition, personality changes and regime direction by observing the state and how it is functioning. Morsi does not have full control over the judiciary, the security establishment and others, so it's hard to predict how oppressive he would be if he actually had such control," says Bassem Sabry, a writer.

The citizens of the post-Arab Spring countries are not alone in these sentiments.

In the case of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi's dictatorship was only replaced by a theocratic variation -- yet we continue to find people who long for the grandeur the Shah presented during his reign. In Iraq, there are Iraqis who still prefer the wrath of Saddam Hussein to the American military presence that invaded in 2003. The wife of a post-Saddam Iraqi diplomat once said to me, "We prefer one day under Saddam rather than 100 days under the Americans."

The more I hear people longing for their former dictators, the more I realize it is not because they do not have the capacity for democracy, but rather long for stability and feel discomfort at the sight of change.

"They saw their country as calm, stable, growing, and gradually getting fixed here and there. Now it is an economic, social, political and security mess," adds Sabry.

When it comes to change, many people have fears of the unknown and do not know what to expect when it is not something of the norm. Their resistance is only human nature.

"This is why they long for that stability, some see Mubarak as someone who "did what had to be done" to move forward in such a tough country in order to keep it together."

The transition from dictatorship to democracy is not an easy road to navigate. With the exception of Syria, the revolutions of the 21st century are much more bloodless than the previous ones. Each revolution in the region will be met with different outcomes and timelines before they can truly become a democracy. It takes time, effort, and patience.

There will always be naysayers when things change in a country in small or radical measures. It is this rift that allows for diversity during elections and makes for good debates. We cannot frown upon these people for not liking the way things are, we must embrace them and attempt to inform them of how and why today is better than yesterday, that positive change comes with patience.

As demonstrated with Egypt, change is in continuum and it will be some time before Egyptians get the democracy they strived for in the past two years. Do not allow the people who long for the past to get in the way of the future -- keep moving forward.