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Can The West Handle Middle East Democracy?
The question isn't whether the people of the Middle East want democracy but rather, is the West prepared for the democratically elected governments of these countries?
We in the United States, and other Western democracies get confused and liken democracy to human rights. Human rights and freedom of expression are cornerstones of our elected governments. Not so in the Middle East at least so far.
One can say that the new government of Egypt was democratically elected, but as for human rights, most would agree that those rights are slowly being rolled back, especially for minorities and women.
Is the general population of the new Middle East democracies better off now then when ruled by strongmen filling dictatorship potions?
Let's look at Iraq and Egypt. The democratically elected government of Iraq headed by Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been busy consolidating power from the the Sunni minority that once ruled Iraq.
Iraq's big neighbor is is the powerful Shiite nation of Iran. Iraq is being pulled into the orbit of Iran's influence under this newly elected government of Iraq. Here is a fascinating article explaining the thousands of signs and billboards of the Iran Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei peering down on pedestrians and commuters in Iraq. One Iraqi grumbled and said “I feel like I'm in Tehran.”
I think there is a good chance that in the future Iraq and Iran may turn into a strong alliance. I don't think that's what the United States counted on when we pushed for regime change.
Egypt now has an Islamic democratically elected government. 20% of the parliament's seats were won by the Salafi political party. The Salafi's are ultra-conservative and radical members that want to impose strict Islamic laws on the country. If the Salafi's ever gain a majority it would be a disaster for women and minority's in Egypt.
As it stands now women and minorities are already fearing the worse under this new Government and expect to see their rights being diminished.
Let's take a look at both these two countries under dictatorships. Iraq of course, had Saddam Hussein. Here are some facts. Saddam was a brutal dictator and to stay in power had to rule with an iron fist.
Saddam kept all the ethnic clans and groups in line. Though he was a Sunni Muslim, he had a Christian in his government's inner circle. Here is a little known fact. Once a group of Catholic nuns were abducted and killed by Muslim radicals. Saddam rounded up those Muslims and executed them in public.
I remember the day before the first Gulf War. A Middle East analyst sighed and said “ Yeah Saddam's a bastard but why not make him our “bastard?” What he meant was, Saddam would have been a very effective counter weight to Iran's growing influence. In fact after no weapons of mass destruction were found we summarized that Saddam wanted Iran to believe he had those weapons which is why he wouldn't allow inspectors into the country. If he did then his deception would be blown and his country, he felt, would be vulnerable to Iran.
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt was also a dictator. We considered him a reliable ally for several reasons. The historic 1979 Peace treaty with Israel was considered earth shattering at the time. The peace between Egypt and Israel wasn't perfect but it worked. Mubarak was also a stalwart against radical Islam.
During the Arab Spring, Obama Scolded Mubarak and told him you "didn't go far enough in reforms." Mubarak shot back "You don’t understand this part of the world,” the Egyptian leader said,. “You’re young"
Both of these dictators to a degree, insured stability. In both countries you will find people on the streets lamenting of the “good days” under these dictators. They miss the security and the better economy.
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I'm I defending either of these dictators? No. These new democracies are still new and no one really knows how they will turns out. Two other Middle East countries, Afghanistan and Syria, the former being a newly, democratically elected government and the latter in chaos right now, but could be the latest democratically elected government if Bashar al-Assad is overthrown (which seems likely) are more worrisome.
The government corruption in Afghanistan is off the charts. So are the clans and tribes vying for power. I fully believe that the Afghanistan government will collapse soon after we complete our troop pull out.
The rebels in Syria are so fractured right now that we don't actually know who the rebels are. They are even less organized then the rebels that overthrew Gaddafi in Libya. If Bashar al-Assad is overthrown there will be a vacuum that may very well be filled by radicals.
My point is, that the new democracies we see in these countries may not be to our liking. We better be prepare for the worse and hope for the best. I see a long road in the Middle East to any resemblance to a democracy we can relate to.