Home/Daniel Larison/Middle East Democracy Round-up

Middle East Democracy Round-up

A few weeks ago The Economist’s cover blared out: “Democracy stirs in the Middle East.” Now it seems that the “stirring” of democracy has been something of a mirage, and the desperate democratists, looking for vindication somewhere, anywhere, rushed towards that mirage and began mocking and belittling their critics for having ever doubted that democracy could flourish…oh, that’s right, they were wrong yet again.

Never mind that the mobilization of Lebanon’s opposition to Syrian rule was detonated by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, not the Iraqi elections; that the cry was for independence, not democracy; and that Shiites, who at 40% of the population make up the country’s largest religious group, were conspicuously absent from the demonstrations. Never mind that Lebanon already has elections (although they are held, as in Iraq and the Palestinian territories, under the watchful eye of an occupying power).

For President Bush, the “Cedar Revolution” marked the beginning of an Arab spring. But in reality, despite their genuine yearnings for independence, the Martyrs Square demonstrators represented only a portion of the country’s fractured polity — the more educated, secular members of the Christian, Druze and Sunni elites — which is why unsympathetic observers preferred the term “BMW Revolution.” And its leaders, notably Walid Jumblatt, a Druze chieftain, and the exiled Maronite Christian leader Michel Aoun, who in 1990 staged a failed coup backed by Hussein, are not exactly liberal democrats. ~Adam Shatz, Los Angeles Times

Egypt has detained more than 90 members or supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood and blocked the group, Egypt’s largest opposition force, from holding a demonstration calling for political reform.

Thousands of riot police lined roads in central Cairo on Sunday to stop demonstrators gathering for the protest in front of parliament. A few hundred of the protesters managed to regroup to hold demonstrations in other central Cairo locations.

The crackdown began when Egyptian agents swept through the capital and outlying provinces on Saturday night to arrest about 60 people. The detainees were accused of disturbing public order and possessing anti-government literature, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman, Badr Mohamed Badr, said. ~Sydney Morning Herald

But the centerpiece of the [Saudi] government’s reform efforts is the kingdom’s first nationwide municipal election, unfolding in stages from February to April. The experiment is far short of full democracy — women are banned from running or voting, and half the seats are appointed by the royal family. But that hasn’t stopped many Saudis from embracing the race as a route to political participation. ~The Charlotte Observer

President Mubarak is only doing the rational thing, in that a real contested election with an unfettered Muslim Brotherhood would very likely usher in an Islamist president and government. Cracking down on the Islamists now will help keep them disorganised prior to the “election,” which Mubarak or his man will probably comfortably win. No one interested in any meaningful political and economic reforms in Egypt wants an Islamist victory, I very much doubt Israel wants this and there is little reason why Washington should desire it, either. But that is the prospect of what a real Egyptian election would bring, so we should be very glad that the democratists seem to have been wrong about Egypt (as with so many other things).

As a Saudi cleric, Abdullah al-Uthaimin, on an advisory council to the crown prince says elsewhere in the Charlotte paper’s article: “We can’t have a Western democracy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia because that is based on the people, and for us, the first word is the Quran…There can be democracy in the sense that people are elected, but there are red lines, and you can’t extend them beyond religion.” Never was there a more clear statement of the basic incompatibility of a strict Islamic vision and a secular democratic one.

Though the realities of Saudi rule are often dreadful by any reasonable standard, at least for those who do not conform to Wahhabism, its representatives pose the conflict of authority very well: many Muslims can make the credible argument to their co-religionists, just as many Counter-Enlightenment and Counter-revolutionary Christians in Europe did, that popular sovereignty and acknowledging the sovereignty of God are at a basic level mutually exclusive. For one to be preserved, the other has to be compromised, and this is a truth that the democratists have not acknowledged and cannot incorporate into their view (or, rather, they take the supremacy of popular sovereignty for granted and do not even conceive of it as a problem), mainly because they seem incapable of understanding human motivations that derive from adherence to revelation, obedience to authority or the transcendent aspirations of religion.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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