Is Democracy in the Middle East a Pipedream?
|Tuesday, February 27,2007 00:00|
|By Fawaz Gerges, YaleGlobal|
Amidst the first signs of change, longing competes with mistrust of Western
Careful support and nurturing by the West will be critical for their success.
Most Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East are fed up with their ruling autocrats, who had promised heaven but delivered dust and tyranny.
At the heart of the problem in the developing world, including Middle Eastern countries, lays the fact that the new elite that assumed power after the end of colonialism came mostly from the
In the 1950s and 1960s, in most Arab/Muslim countries, including Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, and Libya, young army officers launched coup-d’états and seized power from the regimes affiliated with the loathed British and French colonialists.
In the last decade, the further economic weakening of Middle Eastern states has brought popular dissatisfaction to the fore. Islamists – political activists who
Now, however, we are witnessing the emergence of rudimentary social movements that could dramatically revolutionize Arab and Muslim politics.
Even mainstream Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, the most powerful transnational organization, have now come to this very same conclusion:
Still, in the minds of many Arabs and Muslims, liberal democracy remains synonymous with Western political hegemony and domination. Democracy tends to be seen as a manipulative tool wielded by Western powers to intervene in Arab/Muslim internal affairs and to divide and conquer.
Within the past 10 years, mainstream Islamic voices have worked arduously to redefine liberal democracy in Islamic terms and make it comprehensible and acceptable to Arab and Muslim masses. Simply put, Muslim and Islamic democrats have been trying to Islamize democracy and modernity and strip them of their Western clothing.
Although they have come far, the journey is just beginning.
Islamicizing liberal democracy is still a work in progress; a great deal of hard work remains.
There now exists a two-pronged dialectic: anti-Muslim sentiments in the Christian West and anti-Western sentiments in the world of Islam, which run parallel. Widespread apprehension remains regarding Bush’s intentions and policies throughout Arab and Muslim lands.
On the other hand, anti-Islamic sentiment has risen in the West in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. Even in traditionally tolerant societies, like France and the Netherlands, there have been growing voices against Islam.
While Muslim liberal and democratic voices are concerned about Islamophobia, they are also anxious about public backlash against American intervention in their countries’ internal affairs. They prefer that the international community led by the United Nations, not the United States, lead the drive for promoting democratic governance in the area by exerting pressure on Muslim dictators to open up their political systems.
For all these reasons, the promotion of liberalism and democratization must be accompanied by a genuine and systematic struggle to confront the root causes and manifestations of the rising Islamophobia in the Christian West and deepening anti-American sentiments in the Muslim world.
For now, some of the rhetoric coming out from Washington is refreshing, and carries tremendous potential for American foreign policy and Middle Eastern societies alike. There is no denying that there is fresh thinking in Washington regarding the need to support the aspirations of democratic voices in the area,as well as to keep a healthy distance from Arab dictators.
The United States could be much more effective if it worked jointly with the international community in assisting progressive forces in the region.
The United States must also recognize that actions speak louder than words, and that institution building requires the resolution of simmering regional conflicts, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, and reducing the socio-economic inequities that breed militancy and extremism.
Fawaz A. Gerges holds the Christian A. Johnson Chair in Middle East and International Affairs at Sarah Lawrence College and is author of the forthcoming "The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global" Cambridge University Press, Sept. 2005).