This Blog contains articles of interest to me.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Democracy In the Middle East

Dear Ibrahim,

Hi, I am Wazhma Frogh, working in Afghanistan. I am studying social sciences/anthropology at the American University of Afghanistan... i read your article and really support most of your ideas in terms of democracy... but at the end of the day democracy too is a political discourse that has been created for a certain purpose of a certain group maybe... the main thing is how humanity is saved midst of all chaos and me being and living in a namely democractic country while nothing is actually democratic and sometimes i think it cant be this way.....


Ibrahim Uyar wrote:

Democracy in Middle East
Ibrahim Uyar
Political Science Student

Today, there are 22 Arab countries in the world, and yet the number of those countries with substantially and democratically elected governments is sadly zero. All of these countries are governed with various systems with democratic elements, but not one of them could be classified as a democracy. Some of these systems have formed authoritarian structures under the strict rule of a cult-like party leader, a monarchal leader, or an emir.
Historically, one of the main obstacles in democratization lies in lingering sentiments toward colonialism in the Arab world by Britain, France and Italy. During the time of colonialism, the majority of Arabs were seeking social justice, social unity, and ways to repel Western oppression. Most of Arab-Muslim intellectuals opted to completely refuse the West, and they looked to alternative institutions that are regrettably authoritarian in character. Another historically-rooted obstacle in the democratization process is the impact on the Arab world of the Iranian Revolution, which was to many an inspiring reference of success for Islamic movements.
The most powerful obstacle impeding peace efforts and democratization in the Middle East, however, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its repercussions in the rest of the world, Arab and non-Arab alike. Without solving this problem, peace and democracy are nearly impossible. In this conflict, there are many problems that need to be addressed:
The occupied territories and the many ramifications that accompany them.
Jerusalem and its future as a capital for either or both sides.
Refugees’ rights and the right to return.
Borders that must be fair and respectful to both sides.
The future statehood – binational or two-state.

In addition to the inherent problems in the conflict, tensions are fueled by America’s unfair foreign policy and treatment of the Middle East. If peace and democracy are truly desired in the Middle East and the rest of the world, America ought to dedicate itself modifying its approach to provide a more balanced position. It is almost impossible to think of a peaceful and democratic Middle East without first solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and America has the potential to help immensely to that end. With current Middle East policy, America’s hegemonic and potentially-imperial ambitions are alienating a great deal of credibility among Muslims, Arabs and Palestinians in the world. This conflict simply allows authoritarian regimes to maintain their security and restrict freedom in the name of national security. Regrettably, secular parties then lose their legitimacy or become gatekeepers of authoritarian regimes in part due to American support of corrupted and despotic Arab regimes.
America should start reforming its policies toward the Saudi Arabian monarchy, and from there work toward Egypt ending its military dictatorship before it is too late. Authoritarian regimes are huge obstructions to attempts at democracy. The first step is removing the dictator in order to permit a more lawful and inherently more democratic society. America must use nonmilitary approaches, such as diplomatic pressure, foreign aid, expansion of international radio and television supply, and immediate assistance to indigenous pro-democracy elements. Additionally, it would be a mistake to prohibit Islamist parties on the assumption that they are fundamentally undemocratic or subject to violence. The best way to marginalize violent radicals is to create room for as extensive a range of nonviolent viewpoint as possible. At the same time, emphasis should be placed on strengthening representation of minorities’ rights.
Western democracies should be kind and fair in sharing their knowledge of such areas as improving education, fighting corruption and promoting investment. Democracy will definitely come to the Arab world and replace old fashion political system, but the above-mentioned actions must be taken immediately. It is also worth mentioning since the Arab and Muslim world is so intertwined that Islam is a religion that contains moral principles, which cannot be changed; democracy on the other hand is a political ideology that can be adapted and applied into a Muslim government without arguing and criticizing Islam’s moral principles. If other democracies are to be borne in the Middle East, America must first take steps toward solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in a way that incorporates rather than alienates all elements of society, even those who espouse Islamic beliefs and support an Islamic-based government.
Democracies like any form of government have both pros and cons that come along with it. The form of democracy that is trying to be installed in the West Bank and Gaza strip is particularly problematic. The dilemma facing democracy for the Palestinian people is legitimacy. The main opposition to democracy, an Islamic State, gains legitimacy much easier. An Islamic State gains its legitimacy from the Islamic faith; promising equality, justice, social welfare, and order. A democracy gains legitimacy from both the people it governs and from other nations. Palestinian democracy is failing in both these categories.
The Palestinian people do not have faith in their governing body to lead effectively and, this can best be seen in the recent elections, in which the fundamentalist group Hamas won 74 of 132 parliamentary seats. According to President Jimmy Carter, who was present for the elections, exit polling showed that only 1% of the people supported instituting Islamic Law, and 73% supported a two-state solution with Israel (Carter pg. 185). The vote for Hamas contradicts Hamas’s goals as an organization; a fundamentalist group like Hamas cannot accept the existence of Israel, and wishes for Islamic Law. But because the Palestinian people did not have faith in the Fatah lead Palestinian Authority they have moved to the polar opposite.
Democracies are only liable to their people, not foreign powers. In this sense Western and Israeli actions undermine Palestinian democracy greatly. Israeli control over the economy and Palestinian budget display foreign influence on what should be controlled by a complete democracy. In 2005 $849 million of the Palestinian $2.15 billion budget came from Israel; this is the payment of taxes collected by the Israelis on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. With Hamas’s election the Israelis have withheld this money as a form of collective punishment (Brown pg. 6). Here lies another problem with this democracy, in any true democracy the people’s options can not be limited. The election of a group that would like to abolish the system that gives them power, like Hamas, is a threat to the democratic system. But, a democracy cannot act in an authoritarian manner, and dissolve a parliament, or change election days due to the election of an unwanted party.
Israeli control over Palestinian movement, resources, and security all take legitimacy away from the Palestinian Authority. Israel also controls the Palestinian market place, as President Abbas explained to President Carter.
“Israel had taken more control of the consumer and production sectors of the area’s [West Bank] economy, making it an exclusive market for many Israeli products even among the local Palestinian citizen, who could not sell their own products in Israel, Jordan, or other Places (Carter pg. 183).”

Governing bodies must have complete sovereignty, the ability to control an economy, borders, and taxation cannot be controlled by external forces; the democracy that is being installed in Palestine is setup for failure, because it is undermined by external forces.
The ability for democracy and the Islamic religion to coexist is an issue for many; fundamentalists believe it is impossible for democracy and Islam to coexist. Fundamentalists view Islam as all encompassing, and because Islam is derived from God it is perfect, unlike the easy corruptible and imperfect laws of man. Muqtedar Khan, Director of international studies at Adrian College in Michigan, believes that Islam and democracy are not totally incompatible. He looks to the Quran for his evidence and says,
“While sovereignty belongs to God, it has been delegated in the form of human agency (Quran 2:30). The political task is to reflect on how this God-given agency can be best employed in creating a society that will bring welfare and goodness to the population ... God is sovereign in all affairs, but God has exercised sovereignty by delegating some of it in the form of human agency. God cannot become an excuse for installing and legitimizing governments that are not accountable to their citizens and responsive to their needs (USIP, pg. 5).”

Khan’s does not believe that Islam and democracy are one in the same, but does not want people to believe that the two are as incompatible as fundamentalists would have people believe. Another example of unity between democracy and Islam can be found in the compact of Medina, referred to by some scholars as Dustur al-Madina (the Constitution of Medina). When the Profit Muhammad created his Islamic state he ruled as the political head, because of a compact that was signed by Muslims from Mecca and Medina; and Jews of Medina. Khan points out that this compact is not a modern constitution but can be viewed as a “guiding principle (USIP, pg. 5).” A true democracy would give power to the Palestinian people; but the form exported to the region is inefficient, lacks of legitimacy, and is viewed as an opposition to the Islamic faith.
As it is in the best interests of the world community, more powerful nations have played very significant roles in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the subsequent peace efforts. Since 1973, America has given about $1.6 trillion dollars to Israel in terms of economic and military support meanwhile economic support for Palestine has averaged around $55 million dollars a year. Despite accusations of human rights violations, America currently gives Israel $3 billion dollars a year in military aid, a sharp contrast with the $0 dollars given to the Palestinian Authority for military aid (Miller, pg. 132). Current President George W. Bush has not detoured from the road that past Presidents have followed in the support of Israel. The current government has advocated democracy in the Middle East, particularly in this region. In January 2005, upon President Abbas election as President of the Palestinian National Authority, President Bush lauded the democratic efforts of Palestine (he previously denounced Yasser Arafat). In 2002, President Bush announced a plan for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian called “The Road Map” which, as of this date, has yet to bear any results.
The European Union as a whole seems to differ with the United States in terms of supporting a peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The European Union tends to view Israel as an occupying state in the West Bank and Gaza strip, therefore making it responsible for the political and social human rights violations (Bassam Al-Salhi, pg. 15). The European Union is seen as the leader of financial aid to Palestine giving over $400 million to rebuild Palestine internally (Asmus, pg. 52). The EU supports peace and democracy in the region, but calls on more of an effort from Israel to ensure peace and democracy in the region in addition to President Bush’s “Road Map.”
The United Nations has been criticized by many of the Zionist movement for focusing too much on Human rights. In 2007, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Israel to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their property and land in Israel and to ensure that the bodies responsible for distributing property, such as the Jewish National Fund, not discriminate against the Arab population (Dershowitz, pg. 71). The UN Security Council has made many attempts to halt Israeli military operations in certain areas (such as Gaza). One resolution halting such actions condemned “the military operations being carried out by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Gaza Strip, in particular the attack that took place in Beit Hanoun on 8 November 2006, which have caused loss of civilian life and extensive destruction of Palestinian property and vital infrastructure (Dershowitz, pg. 72).” The United States, a powerful member of the Security Council, vetoed this resolution.
There are three key issues of the major powers that are delaying the peace process in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. One of the key problems is the United States role in the peace process between Israel and Palestine and its inability to display diplomatic strength (Kurtzer, pg. 41). Similarly to the peace efforts made at Camp David by President Bill Clinton, President Bush’s “Road Map” came to an abrupt dead end when Hamas was elected into the Palestinian government. Instead of discontinuing the effort, The United States must pursue the process of peace by holding both Palestine and Israel equally accountable for any breaches of peaceful efforts. The United States seems too quick to denounce the actions of Palestine, while never quite fully holding Israel accountable for its actions.
The second key issue is the lack of uniformity. The European Union along with the United Nations differ from the United States in their ideologies to the handling of the situation between Israel and Palestine. One criticism from the EU towards the US is that the US has been too biased in regards to peace between Israel and Palestine (Bassam Al-Salhi, pg. 15). The idea of a possible induction of Israel into the EU to curb its policies and help persuade the United States to take more action seems to be becoming more of a viable option. Greater disparity between the major powers positions on the issue will not aid the progress of peace talks between Israel and Palestine. In order for there to be peace between Palestine and Israel, these major powers must come to a consensus on handling of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Finally, the third issue is the ongoing violence between Israel and Palestine which has stalled peace and democratic efforts. Democracy can be effective in Palestine, but in order for it to be effective there must be an attempt to create peace between these two territories. It is not the flaws of democracy that lead to the problems in Palestine, but the inability of the government to be effective. Democracies represent the needs of the people, but in the case of Palestine, the people’s frustration with the government’s lack of action in dealing with the Israeli occupation has fostered violent behavior. The major necessity of the Palestinian people, which is to have a solution to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, can only be attained through a resolution of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict.
Even with help from the West, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict contains many important aspects that must be addressed in order to attain the most democratic and peaceful results. Perhaps the most pressing of these problems – as without this, none of the other problems can be fully addressed – is the question of whether a unified binational state should emerge in Palestine, or if Israel should remain a Jewish state and a state of Palestine should emerge separately.
If democracy is to endure in the land of Palestine, all aspects of the peace process must be addressed in a democratic manner. Thus, it is important to strive for the solution that most Palestinians and Israelis support. In a March 2007 poll of roughly 1,200 Palestinians (in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip), 46.7 percent preferred the idea of a two-state solution to that of a binational one. Only 26.5 preferred a binational state on all of historic Palestine, and the rest preferred other solutions by smaller margins. The idea of a binational state is in some ways more democratic than a two-state solution, primarily in that it would encourage unity and bargaining between Israelis and Palestinians since they would have to work together to maintain a government. However, it has always been the less popular of the two main options. The strongest opposition to the idea of a binational state comes from Israelis who realize in a single-state solution, they would no longer live in a “Jewish state.” They would be living in a combined Arab-Jewish state, and if population trends continue at current rates, Palestinians will already outnumber Jews in Israel and the occupied territories by roughly 2020, even if a solution is not attained. In that scenario, the Israeli government would be forced to decide if it would maintain its status as a Jewish state – and in so doing, basically become an apartheid state – or if it would accept a future as a non-Jewish state – and in so doing, become a fully democratic state. Thus, the idea of a two-state solution is more appealing to Israelis just as much as it is to Palestinians.
Since the two-state solution is popular with quite a mandate among both sides, and is in the best interests of all parties involved, the other details of peace are able to be negotiated later. Additionally, they can be negotiated in a democratic fashion by America acting as a third party negotiator and affording equal and fair treatment to both sides. If representatives from both sides of the conflict can be brought together and can agree on the idea of a two-state solution, the rest of the issues (refugees, borders, Jerusalem, etc.) can be discussed and solved in a mutually agreeable fashion.
Regardless of the long-term solution to the conflict, whether one-state or two-state, democracy will serve as an integral part of its success. In a one-state solution, democracy would be evident in the equal cooperation and incorporation of both Israelis and Palestinians into the governmental process. In a two-state solution, the State of Israel and the State of Palestine would become interdependent on one another in pursuing a lasting and prosperous peace. For much of history, democracies have demonstrated that there are peaceful and diplomatic ways to reconcile difference without resorting to violence and warfare. The overwhelming support on both sides for an amicable two-state solution to the conflict demonstrates that there is a willingness in the land of Palestine to strive toward a just and peaceful democracy. Furthermore, the successful solving of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would serve as a model for the rest of the Middle East and is the best possible chance of achieving peace and democracy in the rest of the area and even the rest of the world. The attainment of peace is part of the necessary groundwork for functioning democracies, and the democratic elements in both Israeli and Palestinian societies will in turn help foster stability and civil society.

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