Democracy’s Prognosis: US Reactions to the Middle East

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Protestors in the Middle East, an area whose arid political climate has caused a thirst for democracy.

The future of a Middle East conflicted between liberalism and fundamentalist Islam is a constant fixture of political analysis, re-contextualised in the wake of Bin Laden’s death and scintillating sprouts of democratization in the Arab political soil.

In the midst of the Arab Spring, a series of revolutionary rebellions in the Middle East, the West continues to enact military sanctions to assist the transition to Democracy within ‘rogue’ dictatorships, as has been the precedent set in Libya. Broadly, Western foreign policy endeavours to stimulate Middle Eastern development along ideological, economic, political and social parallels. Allusions to a moral right to spread Democracy by the United States has been the lynchpin of a foreign policy consensus matured over the last decade, which argues for an aggressive expansion of American style free market democracy abroad, in an international context where the US can contradict UN resolutions to achieve its own ends and global ‘prosperity’. The infant days of newly democratized state mechanisms such as in Afghanistan and Iraq have, however, been riddled with some insecurities; their reconstructions are quick, forceful and indifferent to sovereign ideas about democracy.

Events of the Arab Spring have been analysed by the media as if they were part of one coherent whole, despite the course of events in several diverse countries taking distinct courses. The Arab demographic encompasses languages as diverse as Arabic (official), Persian, English, Balochi, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, Somali, Malayalam and French, as well as several distinct religions. It therefore follows that the sensibilities of each society, and ideas about democracy, as well as the institutions that will facilitate it, will diverge. The demographic is also overwhelmingly young, with 60% of all citizens being under 30.The catalyst to any long-term progressive change lies within the potential of this generation, enabled by the globalising nature of the internet to pressure entrenched tyrants for change.

Organising the disparate and archaic sensibilities of Arab society under one social paradigm conceived by the West will hinder the long term potential for stability. Unarguably, Western efforts have enabled democracy to function in Afghanistan and Iraq in the fundamental sense that citizens are able (through universal suffrage) to participate within elections facilitated by a working constitutional structure.

But meaningful democracy, one that engineers its own survival because it finds affinity within and down the next generation of politicians, academics and scientists can’t be inspired by institutional creation alone, particularly by states with a tenuous relationship with Middle Eastern society pivoting irrefutably around America’s need to satisfy its economic ambitions. Unequivocally viewed as the “cradle of civilisation”, Iraq, recently beleaguered by dictatorships and protracted war, submerges in a whirlpool of tallying deaths and escalating sectarian violence which frustrates the ascendance of peace and prosperity. In Afghanistan the situation is tantamount but there is, in particular, a particular note of progress, as women are becoming more self-aware as a social faction.

Progress has been hindered in both countries by incoherent nation building strategies by Western authorities. De-Ba’athification in Iraq; a policy ratified to sterilise the political gene pool of Saddam Hussein’s influence and facilitate a new parliamentary democracy, sent a set of Ba’ath party public servants into society in a context  where their profound disillusionment could, unmonitored, allow their attitude to become radicalised, weakening any foundations for a stable civil population. Instigating unemployment and loss of pensions, Order No 2 of the De-Ba’athification policy, “extending to… governmental institutions and apparatuses… affiliate institutions or apparatuses” including 500,000 military members, suspended all Ba’ath party public servants, froze their financial assets and prohibited them from any future public role. Advocates of the policy argue that it helped facilitate a democracy free from the reminder of Saddam Hussein. However, the legal elimination of a political party is entirely undemocratic in principle. Rather than cultivate a society with an open dialogue about the vehicle of totalitarianism, the US has encouraged censorship, it has encouraged taboo. Critics have also linked this policy to escalating civil disobedience which manifests in widespread violence.

Yet an organic process of democratization, galvanized by an organised mass of ordinary citizens, has begun fruition with recent developments in the Middle Eastern region. Libya, Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, and other domino states, have been embroiled in protest and bloodshed as a result of internal pressure to change modus operandi. The events of the Arab Spring make it ever-obvious that transition will be carried by the large youth demographic with the assistance of global information networks which colonise information rapidly at their disposal. But in paradoxic tradition, it will also be enabled by a partnership between civilians and the military. In some states, such as Syria, a progressive partnership of this nature looks unlikely, making the potential for democratic transition even more ambiguous. A paradigm of democracy, nonetheless, has the potential to eventually find endemic support if the conditions are right. One vital condition is that the youth are enabled through social mobility to function as positive contributors in society, that they are enabled through a research focused higher education system to pioneer the knowledge, technology, medical cures and heads of state necessary to establish their state in the mainstreams of global competition.

But if the US continues to market its own preferred brand of democracy, one based on a presupposed pliability in heads of state, thus with limited powers over its own development, then the US will create satellite states, susceptible to civil instability. Not autonomous states with a sustainable future.

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