Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Democratization is No Simple Solution

In his State of the Union address, President Bush reaffirmed his commitment to continue his policy of democratization in the Middle East. "Dictatorships shelter terrorists, and feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction," he declared. "Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer--so we will act boldly in freedom's cause."

If only the world were so simple. F. Gregory Gause III, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Vermont and Director of its Middle East Studies Program, has written two articles for Foreign Affairs in recent months debunking the assertion that promoting the democratic elections in the Islamic world will, by its very nature, diminish terrorism and enhance national security. As a follow-up to his September/October 2005 essay "Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?", Foreign Affairs has just released Gause's latest essay, "Beware of What You Wish For" as an online feature (

In his first essay, Gause predicted that the American administration's emphasis on elections as the measure of success for its democratization policy was likely to produce victories for Islamist political groups in the Middle East as they are the best organized and most popular political movements in most countries in the region. In his follow-up essay, he shows how this prediction has played out:

*Nearly two-thirds of candidates elected to the new Iraqi parliament in December 2005 won on platforms that explicitly called for a greater role for Islam in politics. Among the 215 Arab parliamentarians elected (the others being Kurds and smaller minority group representatives), 81 percent campaigned on lists that were sectarian and Islamist, while only 9 percent came from former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's explicitly secular, non-sectarian, and multiethnic Iraqi National List.

* In Egypt's parliamentary elections in November and December 2005, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood won 88 seats, 20 percent of the 444 elected seats despite progressively greater government interference over the three rounds of balloting. That figure understates the significance of the Brotherhood's showing. The group had fielded only about 150 candidates as part of a tacit agreement with the government that allowed Brotherhood candidates to campaign openly, and so it won almost 60 percent of the seats it contested. Liberal, leftist, and nationalist opposition parties won a paltry 11 seats, fewer than 3 percent of the total.

* And in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas--the political wing of the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood--won a stunning victory against the long-dominant Fatah, the Palestinian nationalist movement founded by Yasir Arafat. Hamas carried 56 percent of the seats against Fatah's 34 percent and 7 percent for liberal, leftist, and other nationalist parties.

I would encourage you to read the entire essay, together with his first essay. Both are available on the Foreign Affairs website They are provocative reading that compel us to rethink our presuppositions, regardless of whether we agree with all of his conclusions.

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