Friday, March 04, 2005

Hurdles facing Democracy in the Middle East

Democracy has hurdles in sweep of Middle East
March 4, 2005 Creators Syndicate/March 7, 2005 Daily Herald
By Ray Hanania

Democracy has many hurdles as it slowly spreads through the Middle East. But we must be honest about its challenges if our true goal is to free an oppressed people.

It is inspiring to see thousands of Lebanese protest in the streets of Beirut demanding an end to Syria’s occupation. Syria has occupied Lebanon pretty much since Israel was forced to end its own occupation of Lebanon back in the 1980s.

Many Americans are demanding that Syria and some Arab countries become Democracies, but not all.

Syria is not a Democracy, and it may be the worst of the Middle East countries. But are the others any better?

Is Jordan or Egypt more Democratic than Syria? Is Saudi Arabia? What about the sacred cow of Middle East controversies, Israel?

When it comes to Democracy, you either are or you are not. There is no in-between. It’s like being pregnant.

None of the countries in the Middle East, Israel included, are real Democracies, if the measure of Democracy is absolute freedom and a government free of religious interference or control.

Those that are considered Democracies like Israel, or those that we don’t complain much about like Egypt and Jordan, are not Democracies at all. They are our allies. They do what we want. As long as they are our friends, we don’t care what they do to their people.

Can a "Jewish" State, for example, be any fairer to its citizens than an Islamic state? Nearly every Arab state is an Islamic state and the inherent contradiction that faces them also faces Israel.

Why can’t we be honest?

We hate Syria because Syria opposes Israel and our illegal invasion of Iraq. We hate Iran because Iran hates us back. I don’t think it is exaggerating many American feelings to use the word "hate."

We love Iraq because we can’t admit we made a mistake. There is no real Democracy in Iraq. I am not sure how free critics of our occupation are to challenge it with public demonstrations or what would happen to them if they did, but I do know we censor the media there and only allow media that supports our cause.

Palestinians living in Israel and under occupation have different challenges. But many Israeli Arabs will say they don’t have the same rights as Jewish Israelis.

Why do we demand complete Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, but not complete Israeli withdrawal from Palestine? Lebanon is "occupied" according to Americans, while the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are "disputed."

It was encouraging to see Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation still come out and exercise their right to vote. And while Palestinians in Israel complain about Israeli policies, they won’t get shot like they might in Syria.

Democracy is a clearly defined ideology that doesn’t come in dribs and drabs. You either are or you are not. If we really believe in bringing Democracy to the Middle East, we should do so with a single standard that is fair to all.

We shouldn’t assess a nation’s "Democracy factor" based on the real standard we use now, which is whether the country is or isn’t our ally. We owe it to our American Democracy.


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