Economic development comes first
Two similar and very popular arguments are that economic development should precede the promotion of democracy, and that the development of the rule of law and human rights should precede the introduction of elections and parliaments.
Many commentators from the left and right agree that, rather than pushing for elections, the Bush administration/the US/the West should promote alternatives to Islamism, education and literacy, economic opportunity and human rights. Doing so, they believe, will promote the base for a stable transition to electoral democracy as the value of non-violent political transition becomes second nature.
Conservative realist Owen Harries actually puts a dollar price on entry to the democracy club, recommending that Western governments and development institutions concentrate on economic development, only targeting democracy promotion at non-rentier states with incomes of between USD $3000-$6000 per capita. He argues further that liberalism is a precursor to democracy, not the other way around, and laments the thought that the introduction of democracy would result in repressive, anti-Western Islamist theocracies similar to Iran. Conversely, the presence of an educated professional class is necessary to successfully introduce democracy. The possibility that an educated professional class may also be Islamist or sympathetic to Islamism is not entertained.
Thomas Carothers counters the idea that economic development comes first by highlighting the fact that autocracies are perfectly capable of, and desirous of, absorbing and neutralising any democratic tendencies inspired by higher incomes and education. Acknowledging (for instance) Fareed Zakaria's concern about the rise of "illiberal democracies", he points out that autocracy is inherently opposed to a functioning rule of law. The rule of law in a liberal democracy means that no-one is above the law, including the police, intelligence services, army and of course the President, Prime Minister or Brother Leader. As such, when these forces benefit from a situation of lawlessness or corruption, they are in a very powerful position to prevent any reform from happening.
The issue is of one of sequencing - whereas Zakaria would argue that autocrats do a bit of democratic fiddling and stop there, Carothers argues that autocrats do a bit of economic fiddling and stop there.
TISM - Wham Bam Thank You Imam
TISM - Australia, The World's Suburb (we've had this before, but it's still available so enjoy)
Bing Ji Ling - You Shook Me All Night Long (AC/DC cover)