“The democratic genie is out of the bottle Egypt is not the only country in this troubled region that is now embarking on the road of democracy The real groundswell this time seems to have come from the close timing and positive outcomes of recent elections in Iraq, Palestine, and to a lesser degree Saudi Arabia.
Saadeddin Ibrahim, Egyptian pro-democracy activist and professor at the American University in Cairo
The Bush administration is often criticized by its detractors as being inept at conducting diplomacy and squandering supposed international unity after the attacks on 9-11. Critics state that if only we worked harder at the United Nations, or if we had better diplomatic skills, or if that arrogant cowboy just wasn’t president, the Europeans and internationals would be right on board with America’s struggle against international terrorism and the promotion of freedom throughout the world’s most intolerant regions.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The majority of European nations and members of the United Nations never saw the same threat the United States and her allies (Great Britain, Australia and others) saw from terrorists and the states that encourage or succor radical Islamists. The internationalists believed the specific threat was al Qaeda, and believed this could be contained via police actions and cooperation with the same states that led to the rise of terrorism. The Coalition allies disagree, and led by President Bush, push for greater change in the Middle East to attack the real root cause of the problem: despotic regimes which are unaccountable to their own citizens, and either actively support terrorists or use radical Islam as a relief valve to direct the energy of angry citizens against outside enemies, the United States, Israel and Western civilization in general.
Because of these fundamentally different worldviews, diplomacy, both between the western nations and within the United Nations and NATO, were doomed to fail. The only way there could have been unity between the differing parties would have been if one side would have eschewed its beliefs in the nature of the threat and how to resolve it. Neither did, both sides dug in their heels over Iraq, and the damage was done. Twenty months after the successful invasion of Iraq and a protracted insurgency from holdout Baathists, local Islamists and international terrorists, America’s willingness to fight without the support of the internationals is showing results. Less than a month after the successful elections in Iraq, the Middle East is on the verge of profound change. The international community appears to recognize this and is actually cooperating with the United States in some areas.
The developments in the Middle East cannot be dismissed as events long time in the making. The peoples of the Middle East have witnessed the successful election in Iraq, with women raising their ink-stained fingers in triumph; the infirm being carried to polling places; the citizens of Iraq braving the very real threat of violence from those who wish to silence them. And now the Arab Street desires a taste of that freedom, and the dictators of the region know America will not idly stand by while the despots practice the usual crackdowns to suppress them as they have in the past.
After the invasion of Iraq, American has not had to fire a single shot to affect change in the Middle East. The successes in Afghanistan and Iraq speak for themselves, and as a result the United States is better positioned diplomatically in the region where the force of arms is respected and the flood of words ridiculed. The United States is following its successes with diplomacy. Governments willing to cooperate with the transition to democratic forms of government are rewarded for their efforts. Where there is resistance, diplomatic pressure is placed to reform themselves or face the threat of the cessation of funds, the withdrawal of American support, internal dissent and violence, and (unstated) the possible support of dissident movements or active American involvement.
The US State Department human rights report was especially critical of the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria. Secretary of State Rice canceled her visit to Egypt after the arrest of Ayman Nour, a leading opposition politician. Shortly afterward, Hosni Mubarrak announced freed and fair presidential election would be held this fall. The International Relations and Security Network (ISN), a Swiss based think tank, suspects the election may be half measures, but “neither the Bush administration nor internal opponents of the regime are likely to be mollified for long.” ISN also reports that the United States has been withholding aid to Egypt; “In recent years, Egypt has lost US$1 billion in aid tagged for financial reform and US$80 million for democratization due to inaction.”
Syria is encountering enormous pressure, both domestic and international, to end its occupation of Lebanon. The protesters were successful in getting the current pro-Syrian government to resign. The United States remains forceful in its demands for an end to the occupation and free elections this spring. Russia, Syria’s traditional ally, and Germany have demanded Syria withdraw from Lebanon. Even the Arab League cannot support Syria, and along with Saudi Arabia, has asked Syria to leave. France, which actively opposed the United States at every turn prior to and after the invasion of Iraq, has demand Syria end the occupation and has stationed a ship off of Lebanon capable of supporting special operations commandos (see entry on March 1st). The European Union is even considering designating Syrian and Iranian backed Hezbollah, which is headquartered in Lebanon, as a terrorist entity. According to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, “the sources of [our] funding will dry up and the sources of moral, political and material support will be destroyed.”
In Saudi Arabia, women see the municipal elections as “small steps” towards the prospects for freedom, unconsciously echoing Glenn Reynold’s statement that “democratization is a process, not an event”. The Shiite minority sees signs of hope in municipal elections, and no longer fears practicing its religious rituals in secret. This is no small feat, as the Shiites are viewed as apostates, even worse than Jews or Christians, by the ruling Wahabbi class of Saudi Arabia. According to the New York Times, Shiites outside of Iraq are emboldened by the developments in Iraq, and the entire Gulf region is optimistic; “If the Shiites who dominated the Iraqi elections show that they can work with Sunnis and Kurds, Shiites in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf say, it will strengthen the idea that democracy works and undermine the longstanding prejudice that Shiites are monsters intent on undermining Sunnis everywhere. The same holds for the Shiite majority in neighboring Bahrain, long ruled by a Sunni minority, and the Shiite minority in Kuwait.”
The democracy genie is indeed out of the bottle, and with the proper application of diplomatic pressure and the willingness to use force when absolutely needed, we can ensure it stays out. The military victories in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the diplomatic victories of the spread of democracy and freedom in the Middle East are dealing the Islamists deadly blows, ones from which will be difficult to recover.
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