Choosing the right path to democratization

Free nations often feel an urge to promote democracy. Some even claim that fostering democracy abroad is the centerpiece of their foreign policy. But reasonable people would tend to agree that no nation has the right to impose “its brand” of democracy on other peoples, other cultures… even when espousing the best of intentions.

Whether or not democracy is the road to perpetual peace, and/or to an economic well-being panacea, it matters little. What’s important, and historically proven, is that for democratization to succeed the primary agent for change must come from within.

Before democracy can take root, its seeds need to be properly sown, and not simply broadcast into the wind of chance and uncertainty. Then, there is a transition period of growth that must carefully follow sequential steps creating proper institutions that will promote, if not guarantee, success.

Contrary to Bush’s designs for Iraq, democracy does not just start with elections, nor do elections signify the coming of democracy to Iraq. The starting point of that path still needs to be found, and it’s not only appropriate but necessary to ask what role, if any, America will play in the democratization; or, if it’s simply leaving the future to chance… much like the planning for “pacifying”Iraq .

Unfortunate as it may be, the United States is viewed by most Arabs, Islamist and secular alike, as wanting to see democracy “American style” (bil-maqayis al-amrikiya) with its own frame of reference advocating consumerism, materialism, secularism and strong individualism. And such views may be difficult, perhaps impossible to deny.

It isn’t that democracy is rejected by the Muslim world, but rather the application of American mores and moral judgments to democracy that is resented. As a result, it would serve America well to take a pause to find a more encompassing definition of democracy, so that an existing common denominator may be found; one which does not accept the coercion exerted by limitless liberal ism, something repugnant to the cultural and religious philosophies so deeply rooted in the Arab soul.

Americans need to understand that Islamist leaders don’t reject the principle of democratic reform as such, but are suspicious of the motives that may lie behind such reform (i.e.: US-Israeli hegemony in the region; confiscation of resources, namely oil; and promotion of other lifestyles at the expense of Arab-Islamic identity and culture).

There appears to be a deep distrust of Americans in the Arab-Muslim mind. And there are well-founded reasons that validate such distrust. For all of Saddam’s criticism, the inescapable truth is that his major instance of genocide was committed against the Kurds when he was America's friend. In the same light, Bush is seen as backing the Sharon Administration in Israel no matter what actions they have taken, or failed to take, since the onset of the al-Aqsa intifada. And the list of seemingly unfriendly acts by America goes on and on.

What about the nationwide elections recently held in Iraq ? If Americans are willing to abide by the results, isn’t this a decisive good start for democracy? A start, yes… but one would argue that such a start is neither necessarily good, nor decisive. Results from the elections did nothing but compartmentalize three peoples into their own three cubicle-worlds. It also did underline the fact that the Shiite represent a clear majority, and thus the ones called to rule- something seen by some Iraqis as “affirmative action” imposed by America as revenge for Saddam Hussein’s past rule.

Perhaps the one thing learned from the election in Iraq is that most Sunnis did not participate, and that without adequate Sunni input in drafting the final constitution, its validity will not only be suspect, but virtually dead… assuming that Iraq’s territorial integrity is to remain. Given the difficulty in consensus-building by such diverse groups, and the veto power that the Kurds maintain under the transitional administrative law (TAL) by virtue of controlling three provinces, one can only predict the formidable task ahead for decentralizing authority in a nation with a high geographical concentration of economic resources.

Democratization is not easy under the best of circumstances. And, if insisted that it have an American flavor, it could prove to be the formula for democracy’s failure, not just in Iraq but the rest of the Arab-Muslim world. America is not seen as a nation sponsoring change via friendship, but only through weaponry and killing. To some Americans, that may seem as a horribly wrong perception; to others, a valid reason to revise a long-troubling foreign policy.