Fri, Feb 11, 2011 | Friends of Israel Initiative, Dispatch nº 3 Year 1
The Coming Challenge to Democracy in the Middle East
Today, the Friends of Israel Initiative released its 3rd dispatch. In the dispatch they featured a nice piece about the challenges to democracy the Middle East will be facing the coming months (and years). The text is re-printed here for your convenience.
The wave of protests in the Arab world that began in Tunisia, and that has spread to Egypt, Jordan and Yemen, has underscored the need to develop a unified Western policy towards these movements. Everyone supports the idea of democratic reforms that might lead to the end of authoritarian rule in much of the Middle East. But democracy is clearly not just about holding an election. There are anti-democratic forces in the Arab world today that hope to exploit elections in order to seize power; the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt comes to mind as an example of this challenge. And these forces are actually opposed to democracy.
For instance, the former Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide, Muhammad Mahdi ‘Akef disclosed his view in 2007 that only Islam was ‘true democracy’. He told the BBC that Western democracy was ‘unrealistic’ and ‘false’. In 2006, the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council led to the victory of Hamas, which is defined as an international terrorist organisation by both the EU and the US. With an electoral victory in its wake, Hamas escalated its rocket attacks against Israeli civilians in the following years, resulting in the outbreak of the Gaza War at the end of 2008.
Historically, democracies have sought to defend themselves from such situations by disqualifying those forces that do not accept the ground rules of democracy and who will undermine the democratic system if they come to power. The Federal Republic of Germany has laws prohibiting the participation of the Nazi Party or the Communists in German elections. The Oslo II Interim Agreement of 1995 stipulated that no candidates, parties or coalitions will be permitted to participate if they advocate racism or pursue the implementation of their aims by un-democratic means (Annex 2, Article III). This clause was plainly ignored by some of the Western powers who pressured Israel to let Hamas participate nonetheless.
What are plainly needed are agreed criteria for participating in elections as the West looks to the question of reform in the Arab world. There has been an unfortunate tendency to underestimate the true intentions of extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. This same error of misreading new radical Islamist forces occurred back in 1979, as well, when many analysts presented Ayatollah Khomeini as someone with whom the West could do business. These mistakes were extremely costly in the past and it is to be hoped they will not be repeated in the future. The spread of freedom and democracy in the Arab world is unquestionably a positive development, but it must not help those who are out to destroy it.
About the Friends of Israel Initiative:
The Friends of Israel Initiative is committed to act consistently and diligently in its effort to disseminate its members’ vision of Israel as a democratic, open, and advanced nation like any other, and that it should be perceived and treated as such.
Israel is a sovereign democracy which like all the others is, of course, capable of making mistakes. Nonetheless, this should not be used as an excuse to question Israel’s right to exist, its legitimacy, or its basic rights as an independent state.
Visit the Friends of Israel web site for more information.