Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Democracy Rebuffed

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007   No comments


June 2007

When all other excuses failed, the Bush administration pulled the trump card: the invasion of Iraq was necessary to bring democracy to the greater Middle East. It was argued that Iraq is the first piece of domino whose fall will trigger the inevitable embrace of democracy. The ideologues who supported the military intervention in Iraq argued that democracy is a universal value that no people can resist. In his most recent State of the Union address, President Bush offered his glad tiding of a new era of democracy in the Muslim world. To support his claim, he cited the elections in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine. He promised that other countries too will eventually embrace democracy.

In 2007, the US needed to escalate the war in Iraq and send more troops to “allow democracy to take roots there.” In Lebanon, the government is paralyzed since the resignation of six members of the cabinet after the failure to accommodate Hezbollah and its allies who won a larger number of votes in the last parliamentary elections. Just this month, the US administration expressed its serious concern over the arrest and harassment of opposition candidates who were competing for seats in the Egyptian Shura council. And more recently, the second Palestinian government in 15 months was sacked by the Palestinian president and replaced by a non-representative one.

These setbacks point to flawed logic and serious contradictions: democracy is not the universal value hungry people or peoples under occupation desire; if democracy is a universal value it should not need to be served on top of a tank; and if democracy is universal, its fruits ought to be universal too and ought to be accepted by the believers in the democratic process.

The collapse of the Palestinian democratic government must be the single most significant event since the invasion of Iraq; an event that marks the collapse of Bush’s hyped idealism and the reaffirmation of Arab dictators hyped realism.

The Palestinian election was by far the best example of transfer of authority through election the Arab world ever experienced. To paraphrase US former president Jimmy Carter, it was a fine, fair, and transparent election that brought Hamas to power and reduced the corrupt Fatah regime to its actual level of representation.

Instead of rewarding peaceful transfer of power, the US and its allies moved to disregard the will of the Palestinian people and further punish them for voting for Hamas by imposing an inhumane embargo on the people of Palestine. The Hamas-led governments never had the power to govern since Fatah and its corrupt leaders retained control over all security agencies. When Hamas asserted its authority and crushed the corrupt and useless security forces of Fatah in Gaza, the Palestinian president moved fast and dissolved the government and replaced it with an emergency one: a government whose legitimacy (per Palestinian basic law) is disputed. The EU and the US applauded the move and declared that they will resume their political and financial support to the new government.

The implication of these events is that, Abbas has ultimately joined the club of Arab rulers who disregard the will of their people and act as legislators, executives, and judiciaries by the stroke of the pen. Just like all other Arab rulers, Abbas can now dissolve governments, ignore the constitution, bypass the parliament, and manipulate the courts all in the name of emergency or martial laws. As suggested by the New York times (June 19, 2007), the US is now complicit in power grabbing since “it has essentially thrown its support behind the dismantling of a democratically elected government.” Emerging evidence points to the US involvement in creating the conditions for events of Gaza that led to the dissolution of the Palestinian Unity Government. According to the DeSoto Report, the US and other Western governments pushed for a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas for months:

“Before going on, I want to stress that, in effect, a National Unity Government with a compromise platform along the lines of Mecca might have been achieved soon after the election, in February or March 2006, had the US not let the Quartet to set impossible demands, and opposed a NUG in principle. At the time, and indeed until the Mecca Agreement a year later, the US clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fateh and Hamas so much so that, a week before Mecca, the US envoy declared twice in an envoys meeting in Washington how much I like this violence, referring to the near-civil war that was erupting in Gaza in which civilians were being regularly killed and injured, because it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas. Please remember this next time someone argues that the Mecca agreement, to the extent that it showed progress, proved that a year of pressure worked, and we should keep the isolation going. On the contrary, the same result might have been achieved much earlier without the year in between in which so much damage was done to Palestinian institutions, and so much suffering brought to the people of the occupied territory, in pursuit of a policy that didn’t work, which many of us believed from the outset wouldn’t work, and which, I have no doubt, is at best extremely short-sighted.” (Read full report)

The Western support of a temporary emergency government in the West Bank in the face of a Hamas-controlled Gaza is short-sighted. This process essentially creates parallel Palestinian governments: one existing in the name of legitimate democratic process and the other deriving its power from the unlimited political and economic support of the West. If this situation continues, the Palestinian territories might be divided into two states. If division is to be averted, that must be done through dialogue between Hamas and Fatah which will restore the unity government sponsored by the Saudis and blessed by the Arab league but shunned by the West. Alternatively, the West may arm Fatah and encourage it to invade Gaza. Should Hamas feel that Abbas is in fact moving in that direction, it will order its followers in the West Bank to turn it into a war zone. If that were to happen, it will be in fact Gaza that will be living in peace while the West Bank will be plunged into an asymmetrical civil war.

Short of any just and fair political settlement and an end to occupation, the situation may turn into a crisis. It is very unlikely that the indecisive Abbas can reach a deal with the utterly unpopular Israeli prime minister through the mediation of an overwhelmed Bush administration. When considering the fact that the peace process stalled primarily because of the status of Jewish settlements in the West Bank (now in the hands of Fatah) and the fate of Palestinian refugees, it is highly unlikely that a comprehensive deal can be reached with the combination of these political players even if the economic situation for Palestinians improves.

By supporting a parallel Palestinian government whose control over Gaza is doubtful under these circumstances, the West (1) implicitly encourages Arab leaders to continue to rule without popular mandate, (2) discredits the secondary premise under which it invaded Iraq (spread of democracy), (3) casts doubt over its commitment to representative governance in the Muslim world, (4) gives credence to the claims that the West will never allow or tolerate true democracy if such a process were to bring unfriendly forces to power. In the end, the West’s double standard feeds the Arab dictators appetite for tyranny and despotism and radicalizes the Muslim masses that would other wise play by the democratic rules. Given these developments, it is likely that, before the end of his term, President Bush will see all his democratic “experiments” (in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine) expire.


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