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Monday, January 30, 2006

Democracy in the Middle East

At NRO, Barbara Lerner says that the mistake in bringing 'democracy' to the Middle East is in the "one size fits all" approach. Some countries here are ripe for democracy, while in others - Egypt, Jordan and 'Palestine' - attempts at democracy will only bring out the worst of the Islamists:

The success of Hamas in the January 25 Palestinian election gives new urgency to the longstanding need to rethink the whole question of democracy in the Middle East. President Bush and his most influential foreign-policy adviser, Condoleezza Rice, argue that to be safe, we must democratize the whole of the Middle East, and that to do that, we must press for free elections in all the countries of the region. His critics on the Right, self-styled foreign-policy "realists," see the idea of democracy anywhere in the Middle East as a fool's dream. The only real choice in this part of the world, they say, is between tyranny and chaos, and tyranny is the lesser evil.

But both sides — call them the "neocons" and the "realists" — are wrong, and for the same reason: Both rely on one-size-fits-all theories that fail to do justice to the complex realities of the region. Both ignore critical differences within and between states that make democracy a longstanding reality in two of them, a possibility in at least three more, and a fool's dream in most others for at least the next few decades. The initial mistake, common to both sides, is to view the Middle East the way the Sunni Arabs, who currently rule much of the region, do-that is, as "Arab lands." In fact, two of the three most populous states in the region — Turkey and Iran — are non-Arab, and many of the other states have large non-Arab or non-Sunni populations (or both) of indigenous natives — victims of Sunni Arab imperialism in centuries past, who are still treated as dhimmis by the ruling Sunni Arabs.

If you define democracy as a balance of forces in which no group's rights may be trampled with impunity, the importance of these population differences begins to emerge, at least in an abstract way. To see what they mean in concrete, practical terms, come down from the lofty heights of theory and join me in taking a close look at the actual inhabitants of six Middle Eastern lands. In three — Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian state that President Bush and Secretary Rice are trying to create — democracy in this decade is not possible, and the pretense that it is can only harm us and give democracy a bad name. In three other states — Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran — democracy in the sense defined above has a chance, if we recognize past mistakes, and act to correct them.

Read it all.


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