When the 2006 Palestinian Arab elections resulted in a decisive victory for Hamas, the advocates of democracy as the solution for all regional ills blamed Israel’s undermining of the Palestinian Authority. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring when the Al-Nahda Islamists swept to power in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists captured a majority in Egypt, some of the same people blamed the United States for enabling dictators.
The excuses were an attempt to place the blame somewhere other than the electorate which had cast their ballots for theocracies, or rather more extreme versions of the existing theocratic elements in the legal and political system. The most convenient target for blame was the scapegoat of Western foreign policy.
If only the United States and Israel had not undermined the “liberal” alternative to the hard core Islamists then the results would have been different, went the refrain. But the United States had done everything possible to back the “liberal” opposition in Egypt, despite it being fueled by a raging hatred of the United States. During the shakedown in Egypt, Western nations had all but ordered the Egyptian military to cede power to El Baradei.
The Palestinian Authority was fed by Israeli and American money and protected by their armed forces. It was the United States that encouraged the PA’s showdown with Hamas after its election losses and it was Israel that bailed out the PA’s cowardly militias when Hamas began throwing them off buildings. American weapons, training and money, not to mention funding of social services and all the other vaunted elements of soft power did not salvage the Palestinian Authority which has learned its lesson and has repeatedly ducked out of holding elections since.
The advocates of democracy have been unable to admit that Hamas, Al-Nahda, the Brotherhood and the Salafis are the people’s choice because they represent their values and ideals. The Salafist victory in Egypt cannot be put down to an effective organization, to a moderate veneer or even the ability to engage voters on economic issues. Nevertheless they surprised everyone with a popularity that was not based on any external factor or political cunning, but on their core message of hate for non-Muslims, repression for women and Islamist tyranny for Egypt.
The trouble with democracy is that it is representative. It is representative in Egypt, in Tunisia, in the West Bank, in Iraq and beyond. The rise of Islamist groups is a symptom of the mindset throughout the Muslim world. But democracy has not worked all that well throughout the rest of the world either.
After all the efforts made to keep the Sandanistas out of power, El Salvador’s supreme leftist pedophile Daniel Ortega is back in the Presidential Palace in Nicaragua. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez is polling well ahead of his left-wing opposition rival. In Brazil, former leftist terrorist Dilma Rousseff boasts even higher approval ratings.
Twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the second largest party in the Russian Duma is the Communist Party. Its actual vote totals are probably higher due to the fraudulent nature of the elections under the control of Putin’s United Russia Party. This roster is rounded out by the Liberal Democratic Party, which is run by a career lunatic who has proposed conquering Alaska, dumping nuclear waste on nearby nations and rounding up the Jews into camps.
If Putin’s power base finally collapses, then the party best positioned to pick up the pieces is the Communist Party. It’s not at all inconceivable that within the decade we will see the return of a Communist Russia. The only reason that did not happen a decade ago was that Yeltsin’s collapsing government was replaced by a younger generation of former Communist Party members and KGB agents who built up the present system into their own personal fiefdom. Now in a period of economic turmoil, the Communist message remains popular and may still prevail.
Democracy is not a universal solvent. It is not a guarantor of human rights or the road to a free and enlightened society. As Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said, elections allow for a peaceful transition of power. Haniyeh’s Muslim Brotherhood colleagues in Egypt and throughout the region feel the same way. They do not see democracy as an ideal, but as a vehicle for gathering public support to ease their way into power.
A strong showing at the ballot box eliminates the need to gather a mob. The mob just casts the ballots and goes home to watch the fall of a government on television. The transitions however only go one way. In Turkey the electoral victories of the AKP gave the Islamists the power to radically transform the country. Given another decade the elections in Turkey will be as much of a formality as they are in Iran. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will follow the same program, bringing down the military leadership as soon as they can to the applause of the European Union and the United States who care more about the appearance of democracy than the reality of the totalitarian state they are endorsing.
Democratic elections are only as good as the people who take part in them. When the people want the Koran or Das Kapital, then they will get it. Such elections measure the character of a people, their commitment to the rights of others and their basic humanity. The Egyptians failed their election test, as the statistics showing the national support for Sharia and the sexual assault rates forecast that they would. As did the Tunisians and the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza.
To the advocates of universal democracy such failures are only a temporary manifestation that can be reversed with enough funding for social NGO’s and political outreach. But the reality is that they represent a deeper moral and spiritual crisis that we ignore at our own risk. Governments reflect the character of the people they rule over and a government whose values and policies have no connection whatsoever with those of the people cannot endure except through the intervention of foreign armies.
Democracy is allowing the Muslim world to express its truest and deepest self. That self is at the heart of this conflict. It is at the heart of the clash of civilizations. By helping to liberate them we have set their worst selves free.
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