Scorecard: Israel 1, Arab States 0. That about sums it up. Israel had elections
at the end of January 2003 and three Arab-led parties won 9 seats in the
Knesset -- Israel's parliament. Democracy, I was told when I was growing
up, meant majority rule with respect for minority rights. Israel more or
less qualifies. Let's take a look at a few other examples.
Iraq, while still under Saddam Hussein, had elections in October 2002 and
guess what, Saddam -- running unopposed -- was elected by 100% of the electorate.
Even people in the hospital, 'deep in coma,' came out to vote for him.
Same thing for Syria's Hafez Assad. A few years ago, running unopposed,
he garnered 99% of the vote. Gee, they sure love those Arab despots, don't
Take Lebanon for example. Poor thing, they 'invited' Syria in to 'help' them
during the civil war in 1976, and Syria never left. Sort of like an obnoxious
guest who overstays his visit, not sensing when it's time to leave. The Christians
in Lebanon feel that way. That's Syria, well-known 'champion of democracy,'
respected member of the UN Security Council, and rapacious occupier of Lebanon
in violation of UN Resolution 520 -- telling them to get out -- I might add.
Syria, that's the country run by the Alawis (a heretical offshoot of Shiite
Islam), of which Bashar and the rest of the Assad clan are members. Although
they make up only 10-12% of the population, about the same amount as Christians,
and far fewer than the 75% Sunni Muslim majority, they rule with an 'iron
fist.' The Sunnis might be the majority, but when the now deceased Hafez
Assad destroyed a town (Hama 1982), killing 20,000 people, to root out his
political opposition -- a few hundred members of the Muslim Brotherhood --
well hey, so who cares about being a majority, right? Although about 90%
of the population is ethnically Arab, with the remainder Kurd, Armenian,
and others, Alawi affirmative action proves that minority rights are doing
fine in Syria. Democracy is democracy!
Iraq wasn't much different before Saddam's ouster. It was run by the Tikritis.
Sons of the town of Tikrit, as most everybody who's been following the Iraq
adventure probably already know. Saddam Hussein, his advisors, top Baath
party leaders, and most military and security leaders all come from there,
a town of about 200,000 out of a country of 23 million. Talk about a company
town -- this one was a town-run country. Saddam and his cronies are Sunni
Muslims, who make up only about 35% of the population, in contrast to the
about 62% Shiite majority of Iraq. Minority rights win again.
Or look at Jordan, that well-known 'modern' Middle East kingdom. Parliament
was suspended and political parties were banned for over three decades. Political
parties were first re-legalized in 1992. After years of promised 'creeping
democratization' under the now deceased King Hussein -- friend of Yitzhak
Rabin, 'peace' and formerly, builder of latrines in Eastern Jerusalem out
of Jewish gravestones -- his son, the enlightened, western-educated King
Abdullah II (who became king in 1999) suspended parliament in June 2001.
Elections have been postponed ever since. Over 100 emergency regulations
-- i.e. anti-democratic laws -- have been enacted, including the suspension
of press freedoms. But don't worry; everything's been done according to the
The ruling Hashemite Dynasty, I remind you, decedents of Abdullah I, are
natives of the Hejaz, not Transjordan. The Saud family booted them out in
the early part of the 20th century. So, they moved to the Palestine Mandate
area and under British perfidy established a new kingdom in Transjordan.
Then there's Egypt, a nice place, as long as you're not a Coptic Christian.
For over 50 years, Egypt has been ruled by only three presidents. Nasser
and Sadat were members of the Free Officers Movement revolt of 1952.
Mubarak was Sadat's vice president from the National Democratic Party that
Sadat established in 1977. In Egyptian 'democracy,' the president is nominated
by the NDP-dominated People's Assembly, and then ratified (unchallenged)
by popular referendum. Mubarak was re-elected in 1999 by about the same amount,
95%, as he's 'won' by for three previous 6-year terms. Surprised?
Elections might not be all that free in Egypt, but there is plenty of media
freedom. That is, for anti-Semitism and Israel-Bashing, all in violation
of the 1979 Peace Treaty with Israel. But what can you do, democracy is democracy.
Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and several North African states don't even
try to pretend. They are honest in their opposition to western-style government,
generally taking the position that democracy, pluralism, and tolerance is
alien to their Arabic cultures and Islamic inclinations.
All joking aside, with the war over, the United States is promising a democratization
process in Iraq. The Bush Administration wants to promote democracy throughout
the Middle East; it dedicated $145 million to a project called the Middle
East Partnership Initiative in December 2002. President Bush, for example,
has called for democratic reforms in the Palestinian Authority before statehood.
Taking the cue before the war, Syria publicized a withdrawal -- 'cosmetic
redeployment' to some -- of troops in Lebanon. Even Saudi Arabia hinted that
after another Gulf War, reform is on the way. We are still waiting to see
any real changes in the region. But for some thinkers in the US, the real
question being debated is whether the US should forcibly export democracy,
to the Middle East, instead of waiting for the Arab regimes to institute
it on their own.
There are plenty of minorities in the Arab world, North Africa and the Middle
East, that await real democracy. There are Lebanese who suffer daily occupation
under a vicious Syrian regime. There are Kurds throughout the Middle East
and Assyrians in Iraq, who aspire to independence. There are Berbers -- the
pre-Arab indigenous population -- in North Africa who after 11 centuries
still resist Arabization. There are Christians in Egypt who are attacked
by Islamic radicals and persecuted. There are Christians and Animists
in the Sudan who resist slavery or Islamicization. And so on and so
on; all are non-Arab or non-Muslim minorities who long for the United States
to bring regime change to their area too. See, "Minorities in the Middle
East: A History of Struggle and Self-Expression" by Mordechai Nisan, and
"The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam" by Bat Ye'or, to get a better
sense of the problems.
Which brings us to the most serious measure of how committed to democratic
reform in the Middle East anyone is, the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The Quartet
-- United States, EU, UN, and Russia -- is promoting a 'roadmap' to peace,
with the promise of Palestinian statehood. In February 2003, their Task Force
on Palestinian Reform met in London, but only the US demanded any real democratic
reforms in the Palestinian Authority, and only half-heartedly, at that. The
Europeans seemed to be more interested in financial accountability for their
aid money than democratic political reform in the PA. They did call for the
appointment of a prime minister to limit Arafat's power. But with Arafat
putting his second-in-command Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in charge -- that's
Abu Mazen Holocaust denier, that's Abu Mazen implicated in the 1973 Munich
Olympic massacre, and that's Abu Mazen who in a March 2003 interview, still
called for the murder of Jewish 'settlers' -- it's like putting the kid in
charge of the cookie jar.
According to 'global common knowledge,' Jewish 'settlements' in the 'West
Bank and Gaza' will have to be abandoned, and Jews transferred, voluntarily
or forcibly, back to the new borders of the State of Israel.
I ask a simple question, Why?
Ethnic cleansing has been condemned throughout the 1990's. Bosnia's power
sharing government is a case in point. After the breakup of Yugoslavia and
the war that followed, the EU, NATO and the US did not help to establish
an exclusively Muslim state in Bosnia, but one where Croats and Serbs were
included. The 4th Geneva Convention (meant to protect residents from forced
expulsion) was adopted after World War II, with the Holocaust in mind. How
could the US or Europeans be thinking of making parts of the historic Jewish
If the Palestinian state in the making is to claim the mantle of Democracy;
no better test of its tolerance of minorities would be the granting of citizenship
to Jews who would choose to remain in their towns, villages, and homes in
Judea and Samaria -- the 'West Bank' -- and Gaza. Without extending full,
equal rights and privileges to Jews in Palestine, including the possibility
to be elected to parliament and serve in the Palestinian government -- rights
Arab citizens of Israel have -- democracy and peace become empty expressions.
So what will it be? Are we going to stop hearing calls for the closing down
of Jewish 'settlements' -- i.e. Jewish cities, towns and villages -- as called
for in the 'roadmap?' Are we going to stop hearing calls for the expulsion
of several hundred thousand Jews from their homes? Or will we now know, that
'regime change' and DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST are just empty slogans bereft
of all meaning?
Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant.
He has a Master's Degree in International Relations & Policy Analysis.
His articles appear regularly on numerous news/views and think-tank websites,
in newspapers, and can be read at: www.geocities.com/ariel_natan_pasko.
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