MideastWeb Middle East Web Log

log  archives  middle east  maps  history   documents   countries   books   encyclopedia   culture   dialogue   links    timeline   donations 


Wrong way to democracy in the Middle East


A recent debate aired by NPR exposes the weaknesses of Western approaches to democracy in the Middle East.

The debate asked the question:

Is it really in the United States' interest to promote free elections in countries where the most politically powerful groups may be fundamentally anti-American and undemocratic?
...the formal proposition was "Spreading Democracy in the Middle East is a Bad Idea."

The usual people were invited, and gave the expected sorts of answers. For example, Flynt Leverett stated:

While there is no evidence
that democracy reduces the incidence of terrorism, there is ample evidence -- from places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- that holding more open elections in these and other societies would produce governments that are more anti-American than incumbent regimes ... The best hope for modernization, and ultimately liberalization, in the Arab and Muslim worlds today lies in incumbent regimes who recognize that, first of all, economic modernization is essential to their country's future."

Natan Sharansky stated:

"When you defeated
Germany and Japan in the Second World War, you spent enormous efforts -- economical, intellectual, financial -- to support, to promote democracy, and today Japan and Germany is not a threat... When Soviet Union fell apart and Russia went towards freedom, it almost became your ally. Today, when freedom is there in retreat, in a big retreat, it becomes again a threat to America. ... You take North Korea, you take Iran ... whenever there is a threat to America it means that
democracy is there, in retreat."


The above discourse would be funny were it not sad. It is part of a debate about ignorance, rather than a debate about democracy in the Middle East.

Firstly, the idea that an outside party can "spread" (that is, impose) democracy, is a bit self-contradictory, don't you think?

Second, the well-meaning notion that what was done following World War II can be repeated in the Middle East springs from a misunderstanding of what happened in Europe and Japan following World War II. Germany, Japan and Italy were more or less industrialized societies with a large and educated middle class. They understood what democracy meant. It was only necessary to remove the societal forces that were repressing democracy, for democracy to flourish. The logical absurdity of "imposing democracy" is expressed in practical consequences. In the long run, as bad examples in Eastern Europe and Russia have shown, democracy really cannot be imposed. Societies tend to adopt the kinds of governments that their people and cultures are able to support.

The underlying logic of the debate implies that democracy is equivalent to elections. Therefore, Iraq and the Palestinian Authority may be counted as democracies, and if the Muslim Brotherhood would win elections in Egypt and Syria, that would be considered "democratic" as well. This is the central error of the "pro-democracy" camp. There cannot be democracy in societies that are not ready for it, no matter what sort of elections are held, or what might be written in the constitution. If they had elections in Medieval European countries, they would have voted to burn witches and heretics at the stake, a result similar an election of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Hamas or the Hezbollah. Democracy requires respect for fundamental rights of minorities, and democracy cannot coexist either with theocracy or clan-oriented society. Either God (or His self-appointed spokespersons) decides or the clan heads can decide, or the people decide --- the different value systems cannot coexist. If everyone must vote as the clan head or the Mullah dictates, it is not democracy.

Democracy also implies and requires efficient and honest administration. There is always, unfortunately, some corruption in any government, but no government can keep the support of the people if it is intent on systematic robbery and does nothing for its people. What is the point of "democratic" procedures in such countries? If the funds that are voted for public housing, reconstruction, military expenditures and hospitals find their way into someone's Swiss bank account, and if the government is too weak to carry out any of its decisions, democracy is meaningless. Therefore, the Palestinian system was never a democracy, and the Iraqi government is not a democracy.

Among the "realists," the opponents of democracy like Flynt Leverett, the conceptual delusions are just as rife and equally dangerous. Pouring money into an oligarchy is never going to produce the type of economic progress required for democracy. It will not create an independent middle class, because the oligarchs would not allow a class that threatens their rule. Moreover, the problem with the "Our SOB" approach to foreign affairs, is that you find yourself supporting SOBs. SOBs are SOBs. They do what is good for themselves, and they don't stay bought. They will take your money and your military support and use it for their own purposes. They may follow a formally pro-US foreign policy, while spreading hatred of the US through "private" funding of "charities" and through a "free press," as is illustrated by Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Moreover, SOBs are fair weather friends. When they see you are in trouble, they will desert. Certain Middle Eastern countries are sensing the weakness of the United States in Iraq, and are therefore gradually distancing themselves from the United States and cozying up to its enemies. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran was received with honors recently in the capital of a certain desert kingdom, supposedly a great friend of the United States. Memorably, in the autumn of 2000, in the midst of frantic US calls to stop Palestinian violence and get back to the negotiating table, a conference of US Middle East "allies" called on Yasser Arafat and the PLO to resist compromise and reaffirmed the "right of resistance." These "allies" included states that had signed peace treaties with Israel as well. Today, while the US supports Palestinian moderate Mahmoud Abbas, certain US "allies" insist on supporting Palestinian "unity" - that is, surrender of the PLO to the Hamas. None of these "allies" could be mistaken for democracies, either.

The above issues seem to be so obvious, that one wonders if the participants in the debate were arguing in good faith, or simply acting as advocates for the respective lobbies and special interest groups that they represent.

However, they didn't choose the issue to be debated. The biggest fallacy of all is embedded in the very premises of the debate. It is a grotesque confusion that illustrates the shambles surrounding United States policy aims in the Middle East. The question of the debate assumes that the problem with groups like Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Hamas, is that they are anti-US or anti-Israel. Suppose there was a violent Jihadist movement that called for hanging of homosexuals, repression of women, funding of extremist madrassahs and establishment of a Caliphate in all the Arab lands, but they were willing to be great friends of the United States and possibly to tolerate Israel, or make believe that they do. Should they get US support? Apparently, that is the case, since the U.S. is quite willing to support such regimes, and that is what people like Flynt Leverett advocate. Therefore, support for "our SOB" regimes can be considered a "good idea" while support for democracies is a bad idea. In the long run, of course, a regime that doesn't allow women to drive automobiles, cuts off the hands of thieves and funds extremist madrassas is going to come into conflict with the United States and other Western countries. Supporting such regimes or their currently available analogs just because they are not "anti-US" is rather short-sighted.

Suppose the U.S. is faced with a choice between an oligarchy that is "pro-US" and provides cheap oil, and a democracy that nationalizes oil production and is therefore "anti-US." Which one are they going to support following Leverett's criteria? Is it really realistic or fair to expect that people in the Middle East will support the United States even when it is against their own best interests?

The worst part of the anti-democracy policy is that it does not, and cannot work. In Europe, the United States was fortunate enough to be on the side of democracy. Imagine how much hatred of the US would have built up in Eastern Europe and Russia if the US had supported the Nazi and Soviet regimes. Such nightmare regimes must always come to an end, and then there is always a reckoning. If the US becomes the main support of oligarchical regimes, rather than the main enabler of democracy, then it somewhat justifiably comes to be seen as the main obstacle to democracy. People will then support almost any regime that is anti-US. That is what happened in Iran after all.

In case you are wondering, those who favor "realism" over support for democracy seem to have won the debate, since audience sentiment shifted against democracy. There is something wrong when Americans decide that democracy is a bad idea, no?

Ami Isseroff

If you like this post - click to Reddit!
add to del.icio.usAdd to digg - digg it

Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000628.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

by Moderator @ 05:24 PM CST [Link]


Middle East e-Zine

Midde East News

Opinion Digest

Late Updates


Middle East Glossary

Middle East Maps

Middle East Books

Middle East Documents

Israel-Palestine History

Israel-Palestine Timeline

Middle East Countries

Middle East Economy

Middle East Population

Middle East Health

Zionism History

Palestinian Parties

Palestinian Refugees

Peace Plans


Middle East


Blog Links

OneVoice - Israeli-Palestinian Peace Blog

Bravo411 -Info Freedom

Israel News


Michael Brenner

Dutchblog Israel

Dutch - IMO (Israel & Midden-Oosten) Blog (NL)



Alas, a Blog

Little Green Footballs

Blue Truth

Fresno Zionism

Reut Blog

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Blog

Simply Jews: Judaism and Israel

Jeff Weintraub - Commentaries and Controversies

Vital Perspective


Meretz USA Weblog


MIDEAST observer

On the Contrary

Blogger News Network- BNN

Google Sex Maps

Demediacratic Nation

Realistic Dove

Tulip - Israeli-Palestinian Trade Union Assoc.

On the Face

Israel Palestjnen (Dutch)

Middle East Analysis

Israel: Like This, As If

Middle East Analysis

Mid_East Journal

Z-Word Blog

Dvar Dea

SEO for Everyone

Web Sites & Pages

Israeli-Palestinian Procon

End Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: One Voice


ATFP- American Task Force on Palestine

Americans For Peace Now

Shalom Achshav

Chicago Peace Now


Peacechild Israel

Bridges of Peace


Israeli-Palestinian Conflict



Zionism and Israel

Zionism and Israel on the Web

Israel - Palestina:Midden-Oosten Conflict + Zionisme

IsraŽl in de Media

Euston Manifesto

New Year Peace


Christian Zionism

Jew Hate

Space Shuttle Blog

Israel News Magazine


My Ecosystem Details
International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory

Link 2 us
We link 2 U.
MidEastWeb- Middle East News & Views
MidEastWeb is not responsible for the content of linked Web sites

Please do not leave notes for MidEastWeb editors here. Hyperlinks are not displayed. We may delete or abridge comments that are longer than 250 words, or consist entirely of material copied from other sources, and we shall delete comments with obscene or racist content or commercial advertisements. Comments should adhere to Mideastweb Guidelines . IPs of offenders will be banned.

Powered By Greymatter

[Previous entry: "Giving peace a chance?"] Main Index [Next entry: "Is Iran hiding nuclear facilities?"]


Thank you for visiting MidEastWeb - Middle East.
If you like what you see here, tell others about the MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log - www.mideastweb.org/log/.

Contact Us


Editors' contributions are copyright by the authors and MidEastWeb for Coexistence RA.
Please link to main article pages and tell your friends about MidEastWeb. Do not copy MidEastWeb materials to your Web Site. That is a violation of our copyright. Click for copyright policy.
MidEastWeb and the editors are not responsible for content of visitors' comments.
Please report any comments that are offensive or racist.

Editors can log in by clicking here

Technorati Profile

RSS FeedRSS feed Add to Amphetadesk Add to Amphetadesk

USA Credit Card - Donate to MidEastWeb  On-Line - Help us live and grow