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33rd Year of Publication

   MARCH 2003 -  Issue #154    


Arab Democracy

Herbert Zweibon

President Bush has said that his goal, after ousting Saddam Hussein, is to build a new, democratic Iraq and that democracy will then spread to other parts of the Arab world.

National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice clearly shares that view, declaring: "We reject the condescending view that freedom will not grow in the soil of the Middle East -- or that Muslims somehow do not share in the desire to be free."

A more realistic perspective was recently offered by Jessica T. Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: "The argument we would be starting a democratic wave in Iraq is pure blowing smoke. You have 22 Arab governments and not one has made any progress toward democracy, not one...You don't go from an 'authoritarian' dictatorship to a democracy overnight, not even quickly."

Indeed, there is little to suggest that the soil of the Middle East at present can sustain the growth of democracy; it is far more likely to be tilled by Islamic fundamentalism. Democratic elections in Algeria in 1991 produced a fundamentalist victory; the army overturned the results the next year with ten years of barbarity by outraged fundamentalists to follow. In "The Pakistani Time Bomb" (Commentary, March 2003), Alex Alexiev chronicles how the "democratic" period in Pakistan's history, which came to an end in 1999, had as its only lasting legacy "the further entrenchment of Islamic fanaticism in Pakistani society." In the most recent elections last October (in Musharraf's limited overture to democracy), the Islamist parties united, emerging as the country's third largest party and becoming the majority in the newly elected Parliament of the North West Frontier Province.

"Experts" differ as to why democracy has failed to take root in so many Muslim countries. A "Special Report" by the U.S. Institute of Peace (Sept. 2002) takes issue with the notion that Islam is the root of the problem, arguing that the explanation "lies in historical, political, cultural, and economic factors, not religious ones." Even were that true, that's a mouthful of factors. Enormous cultural change will have to occur before most of the Muslim, and especially the Arab world, embrace democratic institutions. (Even if Iraq, under U.S. tutelage, were to prove an exception, its fissiparous tendencies would be likely to flower in the sunshine of free expression. As in Yugoslavia once Tito's iron hand was removed, ethnic and religious divisions promise to split the country in three -- an event likely to further deter Iraq's neighbors, many of them with similar internal divisions, from experimenting with democracy.)

Certainly the notion of many in the Bush administration that eliminating Saddam will somehow magically pave the way for a peace-loving democratic society to replace the chaotic, hate-filled, terror-ridden Palestinian Authority is a fantasy. Yet Bush seems intent on pursuing his empty vision of a peaceful Palestinian state. According to the Quartet's Road Map (described in detail in this issue), there is to be a (presumably peacable) transitional Palestinian state in 2003 and a full fledged, final one by 2005. The U.S. will be sorely tempted to accept the most minor cosmetic changes as proof of substantive ones. Even now Richard Haass, director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff, has found evidence of "democracy's progress in the Muslim world" in the attendance of a group of non-democratic Muslim states at a Community of Democracies meeting in South Korea. Arafat or his replacement will be delighted to attend as many conferences on democracy as the U.S. or Europeans or Asians care to stage.

The reality is that in the cauldron of hate the Palestinian Authority has cooked up, the only viable alternative in a "democratic" election is Hamas.

At tremendous cost in resources, diplomatic effort and manpower, this country will change the regime in Iraq. But whatever benefits this brings to the region and the world will be undone if the U.S. then installs a terror state next to Israel.  

Herbert Zweibon is chairman of Americans for a Safe Israel.


Annals of Christian Zionism ...3

The Road Map: Assisted Suicide ...8

March 2003               - 1 -               Outpost


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