While events unfolding in the Middle East would appear to vindicate the broad parameters of the Bush Doctrine – that the age of Arab tyranny is fast declining and a new age of freedom is dawning in the region – there are serious and fundamental issues confronting certain aspects of the Presidentâ€™s â€œdemocratic domino theoryâ€.
On the face of it, the Bush Administration has much for which to be proud. As Ehud Yaâ€™ari wrote in the Jerusalem Report: â€œAlthough there are many Americans who are not enthusiastic about Bush’s policy, the Arabs are taking it very seriously. Democratic patterns are slowly but surely being put to the test, and the rulers are edging backward in the hope that if they bend a little, they will survive.â€
On January 30th the Arab world was riveted to Al Jazeera TV as eight million Iraqis voted in their first free national election in decades despite threats, bombs and bullets from Islamic fascists. For the first time ever, an Arab state will have a president who is not an Arab – the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani. For the first time ever, the majority in the government will be Shi’ite, an Islamic sect that has been denied political power and been suppressed in Iraq since the days of the Ottoman Empire. Newspapers and television stations are flourishing. Foreign aid and investment are increasing. Iraqi expatriates are returning home to rebuild ancient Mesopotamia. Even the al Qaeda butchers have, thus far, been unable to ignite the civil war or accelerate the American withdrawal they so desperately crave.
On February 10th, Saudi Arabia held its first-ever municipal elections (although women were not eligible to vote and the Saudis appointed 50% of the seats). But it represented the first real election nevertheless. This was followed by comments from Prince Saud in Newsweek that women would be voting in the next Saudi election and that the government would soon appoint thirty-six women to diplomatic posts for the first time – this coming from the famous House of Saud that once demanded all US female air-traffic controllers be “stood down” for Crown Prince Abdullah’s flight to the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas several years ago.
On February 26th, President Mubarak of Egypt announced that he would support an amendment to the constitution that would permit a full and free presidential election this summer – an election that would include diverse political parties – the first in seven thousand years! At some point, it must have dawned on Mubarak that throwing liberal intellectuals into prison and refusing to reform a moribund economy would not lead to political or economic stability, but to the rise of Islamic fundamentalismâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦.and that point was hammered home when President Bush demanded that a portion of the $2B annual foreign aid package Egypt receives from the US (as “payment” for supporting the Camp David Accords) had to be used to promote economic and political reform in his country.
Then, on February 28th, tens of thousands of Lebanese Sunni Arabs, Maronite Christians and Druze marched together for freedom, incensed by Syrian domination of their country and Syrian complicity in the assassination of popular former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
But, if you scratch below the surface of this democratic Arab Spring, disturbing patterns seem to be emerging. In 1992, the US acquiesced in a military coup in Algeria to forestall an Islamic electoral victory in that country’s first free parliamentary election. It was famously referred to by veteran diplomat Edward Djerejian as “one man, one vote, one time” and still haunts American policymakers – the fear that allowing radical Islamic fundamentalists to participate in free elections would allow them an opportunity to undermine democracy while proclaiming democratic legitimacy.
Now consider recent events. In January 2005, Hamas (the Palestinian branch of the Moslem Brotherhood and a terrorist organization ideologically committed to Israel’s destruction) soundly defeated Abbas’s Fatah Party in Gaza’s municipal elections (winning 77 out of the 118 seats â€” a victory margin of 67 percent) and is now organizing itself to do the same in the April 28th West Bank municipal elections and the July 17th parliamentary elections. In mid-March, in student elections at Hebron University Wednesday, Hamas also won 25 of the 41 council seats overwhelming Fatah candidates in the process. If Hamas is successful in the forthcoming elections (as it is expected to be), Israel will be confronted with a democratically elected radical Islamic regime dedicated to Israelâ€™s destruction ensconced on its eastern and southern frontiers.
In Lebanon, in the aftermath of massive pro-Syrian demonstrations organized by the Shi’ite terrorist group Hezbollah, the Syrian-dominated parliament felt confident enough to reinstate pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami following his earlier resignation. During the March 11th pro-Syrian Hezbollah demonstration in Beirut, thousands of armed, masked Palestinians waved Palestinian flags tied to Syrian and Lebanese ones burning American and Israeli flags and screaming “Death to America” and “Itbah al Yahud” (“Kill the Jews”), as well as “Yes, yes,” to Syria and Hezbollah.
To further complicate matters, Hezbollah has said that it will not disarm its militia and will fill any power vacuum left by a Syrian withdrawal. In effect, Iran will now be calling the shots in Lebanon through its armed Lebanese proxy. That, combined with President Bush’s recent apparent concession allowing Hezbollah to field candidates in elections to the forthcoming Lebanese parliament may well have opened the door to another radical Islamic Republic in the Middle East and closed the door on Lebanese democracy.
In Egypt, 15,000 intellectuals continue to languish in prison. Opposition newspapers have been shut down and the economy is stagnant. Beyond the veneer of stability, Egypt has endemic unemployment, high rates of illiteracy, and deep-rooted religious intoleranceâ€¦â€¦which leads to a similar fear concerning Egypt. Mubarak has created a situation where the only obvious successor to his regime is the Islamic Moslem Brotherhood that retains a network of mosques and strength in Egypt’s educational and professional associations. The Brotherhood has already taken over the engineers’ and doctors’ groups and is powerful in the journalists’ and lawyers’ associations.
If the Muslim Brotherhood can reach an agreement with one of the opposition parties (as it is currently attempting to do), it will present its own radical Islamic slate of candidates in the Egyptian parliamentary elections in November 2005 creating the possibility of another democratically elected virulently anti-American Islamic government in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia, for the first time in modern history is witnessing the unfamiliar concept of poverty and the emergence of a growing underclass. By far the hardest hit is the country’s youth. Young people feel they have no future. They are bored and disillusioned. That is why it is easy for Islamic ideologues to recruit young Saudis and to brainwash them into becoming Islamic â€œbelieversâ€. With 60% of the Saudi population under eighteen years of age and the number of jobless estimated to be as high as 35%, surveys continue to show that, in a open election, supporters of radical Islam, if permitted to field candidates, would be the people’s first choice.
And Saudi Arabia is not unique. According to the 2003 Arab Human Development Report, sixty-five million adults (almost two-thirds of them women) and ten million children in the Arab world have no schooling at all. One in five Arabs still live on less than $2 a day. Only 0.6% of the population uses the Internet; only 1.2% have personal computers, and over the past 20 years, growth in per capita income (0.5% annually) has been lower than anywhere else in the world except sub-Saharan Africaâ€¦..all of which leads to a recognition that the Arab Middle East is deeply dysfunctional – a dysfunction that has prevented any meaningful political, economic, and social reform and has bred only terror and anti-American hatred as a result of decades of misinformation, economic mismanagement and political repression.
President Bush may be correct in recognizing (over the long term) that economic development, human freedom, full property rights and a pluralistic political culture are necessary conditions for democracy, but in the absence of an independent, educated middle class that has a vested interest in an open economy, a free press, an impartial judiciary, and responsible political parties – holding free and open elections in which terrorist organizations are permitted to participate guarantees that â€œone man, one vote, one timeâ€ will become the order of the day. In the Middle East, the democratic flame can be easily extinguished either by the bullet (as has been the case) or by the ballot (as is becoming the case). To act precipitously by permitting anti-democratic, anti-Western radical Islamic parties to participate in free and open elections before the economic and political cornerstones for democratic growth have been laid in these countries would be an invitation to disaster.