Democracy strategy for the Middle East countries Research Paper
As much as there is no universally accepted definition of democracy, this system of government should have at least four elements if it is to be embraced in the Middle East.1 First, this political form of government should provide the citizens with an opportunity to choose their leaders through free and fair elections; therefore, the people are considered as the highest form of political authority. Second, democracy guarantees the active participation of the citizens in the affairs of the country.
Third, in a democratic regime, the people have certain basic rights that the government cannot infringe upon. Lastly, the political system upholds the rule of law, which protects the rights of the citizens. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S., calls for reform in Middle East reverberated across the globe. The Arab Human Development Report issued in July 2002 chronicled the long-standing political, economic, and social ills of the Arab world. Therefore, for Middle East to be recognized as democratic, it must follow these four tenets.
Ensuring that the Middle East region is democratic has been a major objective of most renowned world leaders. In fact, the U.S-led 2003 invasion of Iraq was intended to make the country a model for democracy in the region. The state of Israel has been recognized as the only free electoral democracy on the region.
Whether democracy can be achieved in the Middle East or not is a hot topic since different theories exist on the subject. Some argue that it is impossible, while others argue that is a necessity, especially in this century.
A number of theories have postulated that there is a problem with promoting democracy in the Middle East. “Today, the Middle East lacks the conditions, such as a democratic political history, high standards of living, and high literacy rates, which stimulated democratic change in, for example, central Europe and East Asia.”2
Paradoxically, authoritarian leaders, who embrace liberalism even more than the people they lead, govern many nations in the region. The most fundamental principle of human existence is that no one likes to be regarded as inferior; therefore, when the Arabs are infringed upon by foreign ideologies it will inevitably lead to the rise of Islamic-controlled regimes hostile to the U.S.
As much as it is true that the number of democratic countries is increasing, the belief that the U.S. can accelerate this process is ill advised. This is because it is the same fatal conceit that led to the demise of the Soviet empire. Therefore, foreign governments cannot dictate noble ends for other countries.
During the 1990s, the U.S. spent a lot of money in promoting democracy in Middle East, which did not bear much fruit. The U.S. failed to recognize that the success of freedom depends on the readiness of the free people to sacrifice; therefore, the people of the region, not the American people, must make these sacrifices. Today, the events in Iraq have proved that forcing democratic programs in the region is a futile exercise.
To promote democracy in the Middle East, the Free World should lead by principled example. Attempts to impose the principles by military conquest, as history has shown, are fruitless. Since democracy upholds equality and freedom, use of forces only risks undermining these principles from within.
The U.S. and its affiliates should not try to erode their own foundations for democracy even as they attempt to impose it on other nations overseas. It is important to note that the ingredients for successful democratic regimes are derived from the domestic political kitchens; therefore, the states in the Middle East should be allowed to prepare this dish for themselves without undue outside interference.
The attempt to promote democracy in Middle East is not compatible with Islamic culture and values. This is because there is no clear-cut distinction between religion and the state, which makes democratic principles unattainable in the Arab world.3 There is a clash between democratic principles of the western world with those of the Arab world, which can be authenticated by the historical differences between the Western culture and the Middle Eastern culture.
In essence, the Arab world flourished in times when the western world was still in the ‘dark ages.’ This made the Arabs to have prejudice against the ‘backward’ westerners. Therefore, when the west was developing through Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment, the Arabs never let go of their attitude of superiority.
This same attitude is why religion has held the region back. Therefore, their belief in superiority is incompatible with the democratic principles of the western world. That is why promoting democracy in the region may be a futile attempt.
On the other hand, some say that forging democratic principles in the Middle East is a necessity that the world must seek to address. Several theories exist that support the promotion of democratic reform in the region in this decade. It is of essence to note, “Both the United States and Europe have identified the absence of political and economic freedoms in the Middle East as a primary source of instability and a threat to international security.” 4
Even though supporting democratic principles in the Middle East involves certain inherent risks, the denial of freedom to the Arab people would increase the number of problems in the long run. If the Middle Easterners can have the opportunity to put across their complaints freely and peacefully, they will be less prone to turn to violent ways of addressing their problems.
In such a situation, they will uphold democratic principles in their political system. Consequently, more open and prosperous societies will come up. Moreover, both the government and the people will respect human rights as well as the rule of law.
The long-term advantages of enacting democratic principles in the Arab world prevail over the potential difficulties that can be encountered in the short term. There are at least four benefits of Arab democracy. To begin with, regardless of the fact that some extremist organizations will still be present, principles of moderation and tolerance will give people the opportunity of amicably solving their grievances.
This will be possible due to the more open political environment present. Second, “political, economic, and social reform will likely, over time, reduce the reservoir of recruits to extremist organizations such as al-Qaeda and others that target the United States and the Americans”.5
Moreover, some arguments have supported the “democratic peace theory.” The position of this theory is that it is impossible for democracies to engage in conflicts with each other. Therefore, peace, in the long run, can be achieved in the region. Finally, encouraging political change, economic restructuring, and social reform in the Middle East will increase the region’s interactions with the rest of the world.
For years, the Islamic extremists have enjoyed support in societies that are typified by brutal, autocratic leadership. They have held the belief that they can thrive best in societies where teenagers have no hope for a better future. To fail to enact democratic principles in the Middle East, by whatever means, is perpetuating the status quo that has existed for decades.
Currently, in the Middle East, many Arab civil societies have sprung up to challenge their oppressive regimes. The majority of the population in the Arab world is dejected with their ruling autocrats. Instead of delivering their promises, they have given the people dust and tyranny.
Therefore, there is nothing unique or intrinsic about the Islamic faith that prevents the region from embracing democratic ideals. Like their counterparts in other parts of the world, the Middle Easterners are still struggling for freedom. However, with the support of the West, especially the U.S., great success can be accomplished in the region.
Having looked at both sides of the debate, I will proceed by arguing that implementing democracy in the Middle East is easier said than done.
The proponents of democracy in the Middle East suggest that it will be a milestone improvement in the War on Terror. However, it has been proved that democracy cannot end terrorism. Sageman, who worked as a CIA official, argue that the sections of the societies that do not have authoritarianism are the ones that are likely to promote the growth of terrorist organizations.6
For example, al-Qaeda, the terror group that threatens the U.S., is composed of learned men who have lived in societies, which have advanced social, economic, cultural, and political systems. Someone like Mohammed Khan, the architect of the July 7, 2005 London bombings, did not have the opportunity to grow in an authoritarian backwater, but in the center of the democratic England.
Even if the countries in the region embraced democratic ideals, the new Islamic governments produced would not work together with the international community. Apart from assisting the international community in fighting against terrorism, they would be less likely to cooperate on some essential policy objectives.
These include, but not limited to, pressing forward the Arab-Israeli peace process, addressing the security issues in the Persian Gulf, and making sure that the supply of oil is not distracted. There is no one who knows the course that a new democracy will take if it is embraced in the region. Trying to impose it in the region is gambling with history.
Based on public opinion and the history of recent elections in countries like Egypt, Iraq, and Palestine, the advent of freedom in the region can bring more problems than earlier anticipated. Free elections in the region would not lead to a democratic and a peace loving regimes in the Western sense. However, it would inevitably bring supporters of radical Islamism to power. This situation was evident in the Palestinian National Authority and previously in Algeria.
Democracy has several aspects, but it must uphold self-rule. Democratic principles should be a reflection of the will of the people in one way or the other. For example, it is not appropriate to say that in the U.S., democracy entails exercising the will of the U.S. citizens, and in Saudi Arabia or Syria, democracy must also entail exercising the will of the U.S. citizens.
That is not how thinks work! What if the will of the citizens of a certain nation in the Middle East want to have a political system and laws that the Free world consider to be very “undemocratic?” In the U.S., the laws of the country prohibit polygamy. Practicing polyandry or polygamy cannot be considered inherently undemocratic, but that is how the U.S. instituted its regulations.
In the U.S., government regulations prohibit the financial support of stem cell research because of some religious considerations. In Iran, for example, funding of such a research is lawful because a different religion is practiced there. In this situation, what can be considered more “democratic?” Which country is more “liberal?”
On September 5, 2005, for the first time in the history of Egypt, a democratic election was done. The reelection of President Hosni Mubarak was thought to be the success of the Bush administration because of its persistent promotion of democracy in the Arab world. It was thought that the country had ended almost fifty years of authoritarian regime. However, a thorough check on the country’s system reveals that its democratic principles are ailing.
Political movements in the country seem to be wearing out. The Mubarak’s government is still determined to stay in power. Most of the Egyptians hold the belief that democracy is a luxury that is not still applicable to their situation. One Egyptian was reported saying, “The last thing people here are talking about is democracy… Maybe the rich and educated care about it, but around here we don’t.” 7
The Egyptian government pretends to be supporting democratic principles, but it oppresses its people. Police brutality, lack of media freedom, and outlawing of street demonstrations are some of the evils practiced by the authoritarian regime. More so, the dictatorial government manipulates the country’s judicial system instead of allowing it to be independent. Corruption incidences are rampant in the country.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s only opposition group, has not been spared either by the Mubarak regime. Many of its members and supporters have been arrested and their assets have been frozen simply because of their active participation in public life. Is this democracy, or it is still “democracy” in the Egyptian language? The Freedom House gives an evaluation of the levels of democracy in various countries after every year based on political rights, civil liberties, and the status of the government.
Based on Freedom House analysis, despite having a parliament, a president, and regularly held elections, Egypt is still categorized as “Not Free” in terms of democracy.
To this end, it is clear that liberal democracy cannot still be implemented in the Middle East states. Most people in the Arab world still view this political system as a form of Western political hegemony and domination, which serves the purpose of intervening in the Arab/Muslim internal affairs in order to divide and conquer.
As depicted by the current situation in Egypt, Middle East is not prepared enough to embrace the basic tenets of modernism and democracy. In the Islamic world, leadership is still the privilege of the ruling elite and it is patrimonial, coercive, and dictatorial. The basic elements in a democracy have not been able to do up until now, or they will be achieved slowly. Let us wait and see.
Basham, Patrick and Preble Christopher. “The trouble with Democracy in the Middle East.” CATO Institute, November 30, 2003. Web.
Held, David. Models of democracy. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2006.
Korbel, Madeleine Albright, Weber Vin and Cook Steven A. In support of Arab democracy: report of an independent task force, New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2005.
Lewis, Bernard. What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002.
Sageman, Marc. Understanding terror networks. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
Wedeman, Ben. “Analysis: Egypt’s ailing democracy movement.” CNN, March 27, 2007. Web.
Yacoubian, Mona. Promoting Middle East Democracy: European Initiative. Washington: United States Initiative for peace, 2004.
1 David Held. Models of democracy. (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2006), 44.
2 Patrick Basham and Christopher Preble, “The trouble with Democracy in the Middle East,” CATO Institute, November 30, 2003.
3 Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002).
4 Mona Yacoubian, Promoting Middle East Democracy: European Initiative (Washington: United States Initiative for peace, 2004), 12.
5 Madeleine Korbel Albright, Vin Weber and Steven A Cook, In support of Arab democracy: report of an independent task force (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2005), 43.
6 Marc Sageman, Understanding terror networks (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).
7 Ben Wedeman, “Analysis: Egypt’s ailing democracy movement,” CNN, March 27, 2007.
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