Tolerating Authoritarian Regimes
Is it morally justifiable to tolerate or support unpleasant, authoritarian, undemocratic regimes because we feel the likely alternatives might prove worse for the citizens countries such as Egypt. With hundreds of thousands of protestors on the streets of Egyptian cities and calls for a general strike, President Mubarak's stranglehold on power looks to be weakening. The authoritarian leaders of a number of other countries in the region will be looking on nervously - as will leaders in the West who've ploughed billions of dollars in to keeping President Mubarak in power and the region stable. It's not just a question of better the devil you know - Mubarak has been a key ally in the Arab Israeli peace process.
Is democracy a morally unambiguous value? Should we always be on the sides of the masses regardless of the consequences to them and our national interests? Or is preserving life a greater moral imperative than promoting freedom - even if that means in the short term backing the stability of authoritarian rulers? Is democracy only ever the means to an end and should the only moral imperative for us in the West be to always safeguard our interests?
Professor David Cesarani , Research Chair in History, Royal Holloway, University of London
Daniel Johnson, Editor of Standpoint
Dr Omar Ashour, Director, Middle East Studies, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter
Dr Emile Nakhleh, a former director of the CIA political Islam strategic analysis programme
Chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Melanie Phillips, Michael Portillo and Matthew Taylor.