Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Conned by Democracy

Democracy in the Middle East continues to be a hugely popular topic of discussion. Its virtues are tirelessly praised by rulers and oppositions alike, by intellectuals and ordinary people, by political prisoners and their prison guards. Yet, in actuality, it also remains an illusion, if not a front to ensure the demise of any real possibility of public participation in decision-making.

Bahrain was the latest Arab country to hold free and fair elections. It managed a reasonable voter turnout of 67 percent. The opposition also did very well, winning 45 percent of the seats. In terms of fairness and transparency, the Bahraini elections could serve as an excellent example of how ‘things are changing’ in the Middle East. More, they might provide Western leaders, such as US President Barack Obama an opportunity to commend the contribution of American guidance to ‘progress’ in the region.

In actual fact, nothing is changing – except for the insistence by some that it is. Arab governments have made two important discoveries in the last decade.

The first discovery is that US interests cannot peacefully co-exist with true democracies in the region. Egypt had a rude awaking in 2005, when Muslim Brotherhood candidates won fifth of the votes, if not more. This was followed by the unmatched democratic revolution in Palestine when Hamas won the majority of the vote. The aftermath of both of these events was enough to remind both Arabs and the US of the folly of their so-called democracy project.

The second realization is that Arabs are not judged by the genuineness of their democracy; rather, the success of their democratic experiences is judged on the basis of how well they can serve and protect US interests. Since the democracy radar is measured by Washington, Arab countries deemed lacking in democratic reforms are often cited as promising and fledgling democracies in Congressional reports or White House statements. Countries deemed hostile to US economic and political interests are remorselessly shunned, as if their experiments with democracy could never yield anything of worth or consideration.

These two realizations led to a superficial change of course, forming a new trend that Shadi Hamid, writing in Foreign Policy, refers to as “free but unfair — and rather meaningless — election.”

Free elections are known to be the cornerstone of true democracy. Thus by giving the impression of freedom, automatically one tends to conclude fairness. But fairness is nowhere to be found, for if it truly exists then change becomes possible and is likely to follow. Those who have followed the new democratic experiences of some Arab countries will have observed that they have also been defined by the same political stagnation of the pre-democracy years.

American journalist, Sydney J. Harris once wrote, “Democracy is the only system that persists in asking the powers that be whether they are the powers that ought to be.” If Harris is correct, then whatever is underway in the Middle East is anything but democracy. Although new parliamentarians are elected, new faces flash on television, and an increasing number of women are paraded along with their male colleagues following each election, the powers that be remain unchanged, unhinged and truly unchallenged.

Most polls, whether conducted by Arab or non-Arab pollsters, indicate that the vast majority of Arab people view democracy in very positive terms. But the plot has truly thickened in recent years, when on the one hand democracy has become a household name in much of the Middle East, and not one ruler or government contests its virtues. Yet, no true democracy has in fact actualized in any shape or form.

Have Middle Eastern ruling elites figured out the democracy trick, the great con of our time? Have they realized that democracy in the Middle East is only what the White House says it can be?

Israel has mastered this very trick since the day of its inception. This is what Hasan Afif El-Hasan argues in his new and very instructive book, Is the Two-State Solution Already Dead? “The identity of the Israelis in their legal documents and ID cards is expressed in terms of their group religious affiliation as ‘Jewish,’ ‘Muslim,’ ‘Christian’, ‘Bahai,’ ‘Durzi,’ etc., where all privileges are conferred by the state on the Jews by virtue of being Jews, thus making Israel an religio-ethnocracy rather than a liberal democracy.”

Israel’s unique democracy is in fact getting more unique, as non-Jewish citizens of Israel are subjected to increasing levels of legal harassment and are constantly asked to jump through all sorts of political hoops to prove their loyalty to the Jewish state. Still, clever and persistent Israel has managed to present itself to the world at large, Arabs included, as being a model democracy.

This was and continues to be the original democracy con in the Middle East. It took some Arab governments decades to catch up and also present themselves as democratic, whatever the reality on the ground. This is not your everyday democracy scheme. It is particularly devious because it can boast of being free, fair and transparent – and the numbers would actually attest to that – but the political structure would still be construed in such a way that the freely elected parliaments are blocked from legislating effectively to challenge the powers that be. If any legislation is allowed to pass, through, say, unelected upper houses, and approved by the ultimate ruler (both usually serving as an insurance system against elected parliaments), it tends to be unimportant and largely decorative.

Since democracy is always a work in progress, for no country can claim to be perfectly democratic, then Middle East governments can always use this idea to justify their own shortcomings. Expectedly, the US tends to honor that, bestowing praise on their friends, and condemning their enemies – the former for courageously taking on democratic initiatives and the latter for failing the democracy test.

The great democracy con would not succeed, were it not for the fact that many players, including the US, are so invested in its success. As for the ordinary people, who are eager to see their rights respected, freedoms honored, and political horizons expanded, well, they can always vote – even if only their vote actually counts for nothing, and only further validates the very system they are trying to change.

RAMZY BAROUD is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London). His newbook is, “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

 

More articles by:

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
Amitai Ben-Abba
Israel’s New Ideology of Genocide
Patrick Cockburn
Israel is at the Height of Its Power, But the Palestinians are Still There
Frank Stricker
Can We Finally Stop Worrying About Unemployment?
Binoy Kampmark
Royal Wedding Madness
Roy Morrison
Middle East War Clouds Gather
Edward Curtin
Gina Haspel and Pinocchio From Rome
Juana Carrasco Martin
The United States is a Country Addicted to Violence
Dean Baker
Wealth Inequality: It’s Not Clear What It Means
Robert Dodge
At the Brink of Nuclear War, Who Will Lead?
Vern Loomis
If I’m Lying, I’m Dying
Valerie Reynoso
How LBJ initiated the Military Coup in the Dominican Republic
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail