News

    Democracy on the March in the Middle East?

    In both his second inaugural speech and last month's State of the Union address, President Bush pledged to foster freedom and democracy around the world. And it may be working, especially in the Middle East.

    In January, millions of Iraqis went to the polls to elect a transitional national assembly, the country's first free elections in modern memory. Soon after, the tightly ruled Saudi kingdom conducted its first municipal elections in more than four decades. Egypt's Hosni Mubarak promised a multi-candidate presidential election for later this year. And massive demonstrations in Beirut could soon force a complete withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

    Michael O'Hanlon says, "If you look at all of that, that's a lot in a couple of months." He is a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution.

    "But in each of these cases, you also have to ask, 'What are the limits of progress so far?,' says Mr. O'Hanlon.  "And you can go through each and every one of these cases and say that we have not had a radical breakthrough anywhere yet.  The greatest potential is in the Mideast peace process, I think, where the clear cause of the potential is the death of [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat and the election of [Mahmoud] Abbas, not Mr. Bush's second inaugural speech, not the secondary effects of the invasion of Iraq."

    Whether the political transformation in Iraq has been a catalyst for chance, more political freedom seems to be taking hold in the Mideast. But many observers warn that strict Islamic movements coming to the fore in a country's political process could stall reform.

    Even if a country becomes more democratic, Stephen Walt of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government says that doesn't mean those in power will be receptive to American interests.

    According to Professor Walt, "The United States has pressed for freedom and democracy at the rhetorical level but has only pushed the countries that it doesn't like: Iraq being the most extreme example, Syria being the next and Iran, to some degree, being next after that. We have not been putting a lot of pressure on Egypt or a lot of pressure on Saudi Arabia to democratize because I think we recognize that the potential for upheaval there is pretty great and it might not run in a pro-American direction."

    Too much U.S. pressure anywhere in the Middle East could backfire. For now, most observers recommend that America continue to encourage greater openness and stand by reformers.

    According to Matthew Levitt, Director of Terrorism Studies at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the U.S. should also be prepared to work with any leadership that may emerge in a truly democratic process.

    "On the one hand, we don't want to have a situation where there's 'one man, one vote, one time," says Matthew Levitt. "On the other hand, we don't want democracy to be a game whereby it's free and fair elections as long as the people who are going to win are the people we like. We don't need to like everybody. But we need to have certain common ground rules. And I think the most critical is non-violence."

    While most scholars agree that virtually any democratic change is preferable to the status quo in much of the Middle East, the potential for violence, particularly terrorism, could be the main obstacle to reform.

    "If the political struggles do not remain peaceful, then groups that have already organized to conduct violent campaigns are going to have something of an advantage," says Harvard University's Stephen Walt.  "More participatory systems can sort of siphon off some of that political pressure. But on the other hand, more open political systems also give radicals greater opportunity to recruit and possibly greater opportunity to actually mobilize and operate."

    Terrorism analyst, Matthew Levitt says, "I don't think we have to be afraid of democracy.  Democratization, actually, is a key strategic component of the war on terrorism. Tactically, we do very well at identifying [terrorist] cells, kicking down doors and freezing funds. Strategically, I think we have a long way to go to win the battle of ideals in the war on terror."

    Although terrorists could pose a threat to democratization, Matthew Levitt points out that they make up only a small portion of any country's population. The more power people have over their lives through the democratic process, he says, the less likely terrorists will threaten liberalization.

    But as the Brookings Institution's Michael O'Hanlon points out, democracy is more than just elections.  "What makes our country strong here in the United States is not just democracy; it's not just the vote. It's the strength of our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, our individual protection of liberties. And creating those is sometimes harder than simply going to an election booth."

    What people often forget is that America's democratic experience hasn't always been easy or peaceful and that the ideals of our republic have evolved over centuries. So no matter how much support Mideast reformers may get from Washington, most analysts agree that lasting democratic change in the region may be years in coming.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.