Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

In the Shadow of Democracy

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

In the Shadow of Democracy

Article excerpt

In the Shadow of Democracy Uncharted Journey: Promoting Democracy in the Middle East, ed. by Thomas Carothers and Marina Ottaway. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2005. viii + 267 pages. Bibl. to p. 282. Index to p. 300. Contribs. $50 cloth; $24.95 paper.

State Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, by Francis Fukuyama. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004. xiii +121 pages. Bibl. to p. 132. Index to p. 137. $21.

For Arab democrats and their allies, disappointment is too familiar, as political openings have frequently been followed by reversals, setbacks, and renewed repression. Moments of reform are fleeting, their impact elusive. Yet even for grizzled veterans of democracy promotion in the Middle East, 2005 was a year of frustration.

Events early in the year - elections in Iraq, Syria's withdrawal of troops from Lebanon, electoral reform in Egypt, local elections in Saudi Arabia, elections in Palestine were eagerly seized on by the Bush Administration as indicators of incipient democratic revolution, an "Arab spring," giving credence to its claims about the demonstration effects that were sure to follow regime change in Iraq. Pressure for reform seemed, finally, to be driving the Arab world toward a point where, finally, it might lose its dubious distinction as the only world region untouched by the wave of democratization that marked the end of the Cold War.

Yet, the excitement and promise quickly faded. Egypt's constitutional amendment permitting contested presidential elections was carefully engineered to protect the incumbent from competition. It was, in any case, gutted in practice. Husni Mubarak defeated his main rival Ayman Nur by a mere 80 percentage points. Less than a quarter of registered voters bothered to go to the polls. Electoral outcomes in Lebanon and Palestine did not have catalytic effects, far less so municipal elections in Saudi Arabia that gave male voters the chance to select half the seats on local town councils. Despite the withdrawal of its troops, Syria remains a presence in Lebanon, and its government shows little inclination to reform in the face of sustained external pressure.1 Mahmud 'Abbas' election as President of the Palestinian Authority in January 2005 temporarily improved the tenor of US-Israeli relations, but has not, to date, altered the determination of the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to define Israel's borders unilaterally. Nor did it give 'Abbas the political standing to move quickly to implement an assertive program of political reform, or to confront the diffusion of military power in Palestinian society - a crucial prerequisite to the consolidation of a democratic Palestinian state. 'Abbas' "Altalena Moment" has come and gone. As a result, the possibilities for centralizing authority within electoral institutions and consolidating Palestinian democracy are remote.2

And then there's Iraq. Neither doomsayers nor cheerleaders have yet written the final word on Iraq's future. Its trajectory remains too unsettled to dismiss entirely the possibility that something approaching democracy will result from recent constitutional negotiations and parliamentary elections. Nor is it yet possible to conclude that Iraq is locked into a course leading ineluctably to sectarian violence, fragmentation, and a possible return to authoritarian rule - though too many steps down this path have already been taken.3

What is much clearer, however, one year after the "purple revolution" of January 2005, is the collapse of American expectations about what regime change in Iraq would mean for the region as a whole. Combined with daily reminders of the grinding violence that grips much of the country, the chaotic process of constitution building has underscored the fecklessness of Bush Administration claims about a democratic "domino effect" resulting from the invasion. Without question, neighboring states are learning from what they see in Iraq; the lessons they take away, however, are far removed from those imagined by the White House and the Pentagon during the run-up to war. …

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