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Friday, March 04, 2005

Middle East Democracy

Sorry fans, I have not been exploring wider issues in our region. Possibly because I'm not a full-on political analyst, I only know what I think. Possibly because I was afraid of any repercussions, but I know hardly anyone reads this blog. Possibly I'm too lazy.

Anyhoo, prompted by a couple of things, I think it's about time I added my twopenn'orth*.

The first thing was a little article on democracy on small cavy's blog... the second was a very thought-provoking article in today's Gulf News. I reckon if it's OK for Gulf News to print it then it's OK for me to blog about it.

In my opinion, democracy is not that great. It has many notable features, but it can end up as a total compromise if you have a really big electorate (look at India). But when democracy can put a disingenuous evil-minded git like Dubya in charge of the world (twice!), then it ain't working. The idea of democracy and universal suffrage is superb, and the idea of 'Government by the people, for the people' is just sublime. We say to our 'rulers', 'we put you in charge, on our behalf. But never forget it. You are our representatives, not our bosses.' And when we get fed up of them we impeach them or we elect a replacement set.

That idea seems to have had its day or the so-called rulers in the West have forgotten it. Now the US has the disgusting Patriot Act, and the UK 'government' are trying to enact something very similar. Forgive me, but any law that allows detaining people (any people, no matter how long and straggly their beard may be) indefinitely without trial or even any charges being laid is wrong, wrong, wrong.

George Bush has been harping on about bringing 'democracy' to the Middle East. I laughed out loud when I first heard this idea. Bear in mind, it took hundreds of years for a form of democracy and eventually universal suffrage to become established in the minds and hearts of voters in Europe and North America. The notion that you think you can just transplant this to places like Afghanistan or Iraq is laughable.

But it will be interesting to see if, when and to what extent a little bit of voting will be allowed here in the UAE. Apparently the Constitution already allows for the election of members of the Federal National Council - the only problem right now is the severely restricted number of voters.

*= 'two penny worth', auld English idiom meaning 'my worthless contribution'.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Duffy said...

Um...where to begin? Democracy is "not that great"? Really? What of Winston's axiom that it's the "worst form of government except for all the others"? What format is better?

The people of the US voted for Bush. He was duly elected as it was the will of the electorate. Why does that undermine democracy? Because you don't agree with him?

You also ascribe to the Patriot Act the fact that people are being held without charges being filed. Why? The two are not connected. The ruling regarding the Gitmo prisoners was based on Constitutional and International law. Those being held there have no standing before either. They were not protected by Geneva conventions as they violated many rules of war. They are not bound by US law because they are not US citizens and have never set foot in the country. Unfortunately, they fall into the black hole that is the gap between the two. In fact, each and every one of them is subject to summary execution on the battlefield.

You laugh at "bringing democracy to the middle east." How then, do you account for the changes happening there? Eight million Iraqis voted. The Lebanese are throwing the Syrians out. The PA has had it's first elections in 10 years. Egypt is allowing multiple candidates on the ballot next election. Jordan is making noises about elections and even Saudi Arabia held elections recently. Afghanistan held very successful elections as well. I do not think we are forcing democracy or "transplanting" it on anyone. I think it it mankind's natural state and tyrants and dictators have prevented it from blooming in the Middle East before now.

10:54 pm  
Blogger Keefieboy said...

Sorry Duffy, I seem to have struck a raw nerve with you here.

On the question of Dubya, his legitimacy in his first term was extremely doubtful. His second term is legitimate, but I'm never likely to invite the guy round for dinner.

You say that the Patriot Act is nothing to do with the detentions in Guantanamo Bay, but look at this http://www.aclu.org/SafeandFree/SafeandFree.cfm?ID=13079&c=207 - ACLU says that anything between 3 and 5 thousand people are being held without charge under the Patriot Act. This is actually many more than in Guantanamo.

I do not know on what legal basis the folks in Guantanamo Bay are being held. You say "They were not protected by Geneva conventions as they violated many rules of war. They are not bound by US law because they are not US citizens and have never set foot in the country". Come on Duffy - who says they violated many rules of war? We know some of your guys did that. And yes, those held at Guantanamo are not bound by US law. They are not US citizens. So why is the US holding them prisoner in Cuba?

As far as I know none of those prisoners that have been released to their European countries of origin (after years of illegal detainment without charge), have been charged in their own countries. You cannot have a system where people fall into a black hole. If that happens, who is to blame?

Your President (and the UK Prime Minister) lied, repeatedly, about the reason for war on Iraq. This is indefensible and destroys their credibility.

I do not laugh at the the idea of bringing democracy to the Middle East. But I did laugh when it was said by Dubya (I'm sorry, but I do have to either laugh or cry at almost everything this man utters - his folksy, fake sincerity just drives me up the wall) - ultimately democracy is as good a system as any other, but for Dubya to try to force it to happen here is, well, amusing.

And if democracy is the 'natural state of mankind', how come it took so long for anyone to invent it? Don't tell me about Ancient Greeks and Romans, their franchise for voters was extremely limited, and democracy died out when they did. Given that personkind has existed on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years, it is only really in the last 300 years that democracy has taken hold in a serious way in some western countries.

I'm not actually meaning to say that I think democracy is a bad thing, I don't. But I do think it's something that nations need to grow into. To implement democracy you need to have effective political parties. You need to have an educated electorate who have some kind of clue about what they are voting for. And you need to have a stable and secure environment in which to try out this experiment. If people feel threatened when they try to cast their vote, if their options are severely restricted, if their votes are ignored in the counting process, the whole thing becomes a farce.

And it's not the end of the world if a country does not practice democracy. Trying to introduce democracy is almost never going to bring about the desired result - in the case of the US ambitions in the Middle East, they really would not want to see a bunch of radical Islamist governments being elected, but that's likely to happen in many countries because the Islamists are the ones who want the power more than anyone else.

9:30 pm  
Blogger Duffy said...

Sorry Duffy, I seem to have struck a raw nerve with you here.Not really, I don't agree with what you say, but I'm in no way angry about it.


On the question of Dubya, his legitimacy in his first term was extremely doubtful. His second term is legitimate, but I'm never likely to invite the guy round for dinner.The first election was very very close. A conglomerate of US media outfits comissioned Ernst & Young to do a complete recount of the votes after the election. In every version of the recount, Bush won. The narrowest margin was 539 votes.

You say that the Patriot Act is nothing to do with the detentions in Guantanamo Bay, but look at this http://www.aclu.org/SafeandFree/SafeandFree.cfm?ID=13079&c=207 - ACLU says that anything between 3 and 5 thousand people are being held without charge under the Patriot Act. This is actually many more than in Guantanamo.The ACLU cites "immigration advocates" as the source for that number. It has no basis in fact. Were it actually true, you would deaf from the thundering of the ACLU Sandalnistas (Castro Brigade) as they stormed the DOJ to file amicus briefs.

I do not know on what legal basis the folks in Guantanamo Bay are being held. You say "They were not protected by Geneva conventions as they violated many rules of war. They are not bound by US law because they are not US citizens and have never set foot in the country". Come on Duffy - who says they violated many rules of war? We know some of your guys did that. And yes, those held at Guantanamo are not bound by US law. They are not US citizens. So why is the US holding them prisoner in Cuba?Simply put:
1. armed forces must be in recognizable uniform to discriminate them from civilians.
2. They use ambulances to launch attacks
3. They use mosques, schools and hospitals to store weapons and attack coalition troops.
4. They feign surrender and attack under a white flag
5. They saw the heads off of anyone they capture and distribute videotape of same
That's just a few. Have US troops violated laws of war? Yes. They have been and are being punished for doing so. They are exceptions to the rule, not the standard operating procedure. Therein lies the difference. The US is holding them prisoner in Cuba becuase it is expedient to do so. They could have created large detention facilities in Iraq but that is rife with problems. As "battlefield detainees" they are questioned until they are deterimined not to be a threat and released or they may be detained further. There have been numerous instances where detainees released from Gitmo have been recaptured (or killed) while conducting operations against Coalition and Iraqi forces.


As far as I know none of those prisoners that have been released to their European countries of origin (after years of illegal detainment without charge), have been charged in their own countries. You cannot have a system where people fall into a black hole. If that happens, who is to blame? Sure they have. One of them is a Swede who said he was treated very well and gained quite a bit of weight while he was there. Also two Londoners were released and then sued the US government for detaining them.


Your President (and the UK Prime Minister) lied, repeatedly, about the reason for war on Iraq. This is indefensible and destroys their credibility.How so? A lie assumes that you are presenting something you know to be false and claiming it to be true. If I am presenting something that I believe to be true that turns out to be, in fact, wrong (not true) that is not a lie, but an error. In short; every intelligence agency in the world (French, Russian, US, UK, etc.) believed Iraq had WMD's. Even the UN did. Blix said the catalog of weapons they admitted to during the inspections had simply been omitted from the later version and were unaccounted for. Similarly, one attack on a US patrol used a Sarin shell that contained enough gas to kill 100,000 people. Fortunately, the gas vaporized when the IED was detonated. Does that not count? Why were there so many cases of poison gas testing equipment found at Salman Pak? I believe they had the stuff moved to Syria in the run up to the war. We shall see if that bears out.


I do not laugh at the the idea of bringing democracy to the Middle East. But I did laugh when it was said by Dubya (I'm sorry, but I do have to either laugh or cry at almost everything this man utters - his folksy, fake sincerity just drives me up the wall) - ultimately democracy is as good a system as any other, but for Dubya to try to force it to happen here is, well, amusing.Here's where European and American sensibilies depart. To many Americans, his sincerity is the one thing they are sure of. The president has been consistant with what he says and what he does. He aimed to overthrow Iraq by force if necessary and he did. He told Afghanistan they would either hand over Bin Laden or be attacked, he did as he said. Also the view that we're trying to "force" it on anyone is completely not what we're trying to do. Everybody wants to vote for their leaders, it's just that tyrants have precluded them from doing so. Do you think the people of Lebannon have been "forced" into taking to the streets to get Syria out and have free and fair elections? Even that Druze warlord has pointed to the Bush Doctrine as the source of this change. Likewise people in Iran are fed up with the Mullah-ocracy there and have seen what is happning next door in Iraq and are thinking, "If them, why not us?"


And if democracy is the 'natural state of mankind', how come it took so long for anyone to invent it? Don't tell me about Ancient Greeks and Romans, their franchise for voters was extremely limited, and democracy died out when they did. Given that personkind has existed on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years, it is only really in the last 300 years that democracy has taken hold in a serious way in some western countries.That's a good question. Just because it took a long time to come into being does not mean it is not natural. I believe human rights to be natural and supreme to any local social mores. They too, are a relatively recent concept yet I cannot comprehend how they can be viewed as a "western concept" as the Chinese government believes. Remember too, that for a very long time there was no government in the sense that we know it now. There was society but not nec. government. Today you and I, two people who would have certainly never conversed but for technology are doing so. The world is shrinking and now information and news fly about the globe at the speed of light. There monopoly on information once held by a few is now broken. That allows for acceleration of ideas and such.


I'm not actually meaning to say that I think democracy is a bad thing, I don't. But I do think it's something that nations need to grow into. To implement democracy you need to have effective political parties. You need to have an educated electorate who have some kind of clue about what they are voting for. And you need to have a stable and secure environment in which to try out this experiment. If people feel threatened when they try to cast their vote, if their options are severely restricted, if their votes are ignored in the counting process, the whole thing becomes a farce.Rule of law is extremely important to establish a functioning democracy. Africa is a basket case because of the lack of law enforcement. Each election brings a non-surprising re-election of whichever thug has managed to steal the election. When he's overthrown or flees the country, the cycle begins anew. Look at Mugabe as a prime example. The Iraqis were gravely threatened and voted anyway. I'm not sure about the "educated electorate" bit. We allow all kinds of stupid people to vote here. Homeless, illiterates and even Michael Moore (who dresses like a homeless man and speaks like an illiterate one).


And it's not the end of the world if a country does not practice democracy. Trying to introduce democracy is almost never going to bring about the desired result - in the case of the US ambitions in the Middle East, they really would not want to see a bunch of radical Islamist governments being elected, but that's likely to happen in many countries because the Islamists are the ones who want the power more than anyone else.No, it's not the end of the world but it can often be the beginning of the end. There are certainly some places where political freedom is very low but economic freedom is very high (Dubai, HK, Monaco) and they are success stories as far as they go. The thing is, the world is changing and getting much smaller. The Islamists didn't win in Iraq. They were soundly defeated. Much of their support is trumped up by fear of retaliation if you don't support them. Someone observed recently that the reason tyrannies tend to implode rapidly is that they spend more and more time keeping people down and keeping them from realizing that everyone is just as unhappy and pissed off as they are. Once people realize they're in good company, things end very quickly. Islamists won't win in Iran, nor Jordan. I don't care if they're not subservient to US interests. I just want them to be free, democratic, stable, peaceable and supportive of human rights. If they choose to charge us $500 per barrel of oil, that's up to them.

I think we can disagree without being disagreeable. I'm glad we're having this exchange and I'd like to hear more if you're so inclined.

12:59 am  

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