Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Arab World: Democracy of Promotion or Democracy of Prevention? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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President Bush”s initiative to democratize the Middle East ought to be taken seriously by the policymakers in the Arab region. This initiative is a basic constituent of the US war on terrorism, because it is an effective way of dealing with the eradication of the roots of terrorism, and there is no dispute over this. I am one of the most fervent callers for the democratization of the region. However, the real problem with the US vision, and with the vision of those who service the US policies in the research centers, is that they liken democracy to a cattle-breeding or chicken-farming project. The utterances that prevail in the arena seem to stem from a Ministry of Agriculture rather than from decision-making powers. Let me explain.

The US call for democratizing the region mainly consists of a collection of initiatives, such as the Middle East partnership initiative, which works to support women and the weak civil society. It also seeks to invest money in individuals and institutions on the pretext of strengthening them against the brutal regimes that close the doors in the faces of the reformists, and we must have strong democratic men and women so that democracy in the Middle East can flourish. In my opinion, such is a cattle-breeding project rather than democratization. Why?

I believe that the secret of democracy lies in the assumption that every human being has a natural tendency to control decision-making and power. A democratic society is a society that is capable of establishing strong barriers that prevent an individual from fulfilling his natural tendency to oppress and be tyrannical. A democratic society is that which is capable of building obstacles that would hinder anyone who is tempted by tyranny. It is a society that is capable of drafting laws and of building legal institutions that would interpret these laws and establishing other institutions to protect these laws. This society would have different institutions to prevent any party from holding on to power for too long without the peaceful transfer of power, and prevent that party from falsifying or bending the elections in its favor every time. A democratic society is a society with institutions and culture, that is, a society with a common collection of values and a varied civil society that does not allow a specific group to achieve an absolute majority of the electoral votes.

Therefore, in my opinion, the basis of democracy is prevention and not promotion. This means that endorsing a positive democracy that adopts the policy of promotion, or fattening a group of individuals to represent &#34democratic leadership&#34, is a misguided policy. This is because democracy is not established voluntarily by good-willed democrats who would like to alternate power with their opponents but rather, democracy is the creation of barriers agreed by all sections of the society to prevent any dictator or tyrant from monopolizing power. In such a society, there is no objection to the presence of extremist right-wingers, such as the Russian Jirinovsky, or for individuals like Al-Qaradawi or Abbud al-Zummur to be presidential candidates in Egypt. There is no objection to any of these people obtaining five percent of the votes in free and impartial elections, and there is no objection to the representation of parties under the leaders of these people with five members in parliament.

What should be banned, however, is that an extremist or a dictator should accede to the seat of power, not because the constitution of any particular country specifies the alternation of power, but because there are real institutions in society that prevent such a person from reaching the top of the political pyramid in that country. The absence of these obstacles or barriers in societies is what caused characters such as Hitler or Mussolini to come to power through elections and through hypnotized masses whose emotions were inflamed by the enthusiastic and racist speeches. After Hitler, Germany understood the game, and did not become a democracy that resembles a cattle-breeding project, but rather, it established strong constitutional institutions to prevent the accession of someone like Hitler to a seat of power.

Therefore, any society can build such social barriers and obstacles that would prevent extremists and dictators from acceding to power or controlling a majority in society through terrorism and hatred. Therefore, we are discussing a healthy and democratic society; a rational society, not an emotional one; an intelligent society, not a demagogic one; and a civilized society, not a brutal one.

How can we apply such abstract theory to the Arab world? Let us take

Iraq as an example so as not to upset the strongholds of dictatorship. Today, anyone who looks at Iraq, and the US policy towards organizing the society and rebuilding the state, will realize the magnitude of the problem. I hope no one misunderstands me, as I am not pessimistic about Iraq. The fact is that I am optimistic, but my criticism of the current Iraqi situation seeks to explain the way to apply the democracy of prevention, as opposed to the democracy of promotion.

The US policy in Iraq, which relied upon the method of promoting democracy and democrats through &#34Al-Hurrah&#34 and &#34Sawa,&#34 was looking for an Iraqi Thomas Jefferson, but found itself with Muqtada al-Sadr, Al-Zarqawi, even Al-Chalabi, and Allawi. Even if the policy of promoting democracy were to succeed in the short-term, there would be nothing to prevent the entire Iraqi arena from slipping into a dictatorship again, as the case was in Germany before World War II. There is nothing to prevent the appearance of people like Saddam Hussein again, even through direct and free elections.

The effective method to build a real Iraqi democracy is to accept that the Baa”th supporters stay, but it is imperative to build social and legal institutions to prevent them permanently from gaining absolute control over the state. The first step in this direction is to invest all the profits of Iraqi oil into the hands of the parliament, i.e. the Iraqi parliament becomes like the US Congress, the one to give the executive authority the necessary funds to manage state affairs. Let power be in the hands of the president, but it is imperative to build institutions to prevent any president from staying in power for more than two presidential terms.

A democracy preventing a dictator from coming into or remaining in power is much better than a democracy that fattens Arab democrats, or than promoting democracy through non-democratic media. In order to build a democratic Iraq, it is imperative to adopt a prevention democracy, not a promotion one. It is imperative to build a system that distributes power fairly among the parliament, the president, and the prime minister, so that none of them will have enough power to enable him to become a dictator.

In some countries the Islamists promote the slogan, &#34Islam is the solution,&#34 and the democrats promote the slogan, &#34Democracy is the solution&#34, however, in the case of Iraq, depositing the oil funds in the hands of parliament is the real solution. This is a prevention democracy, as for the democracy of the Agriculture Ministry and over-feeding of the Arab democrats, this is inevitably bound to fail.