Magazine article New Internationalist

We Preach Democracy Yet Befriend Dictators

Magazine article New Internationalist

We Preach Democracy Yet Befriend Dictators

Article excerpt

How is Western-style democracy seen in the Middle East these days?

In Europe there seems to be less and less democracy. There's more and more presidential government; members of parliament simply don't have any power any more. People in the Middle East read about the West as we read about the Middle East. They are aware of conversations about the 'democratic deficit'; they are aware of the degree to which voters in the West seem increasingly distanced from their representatives. So a lot of the people I talk to in the Middle Fast are asking why we are trying to preach democracy when we don't have a lot ourselves.

There's a good deal of cynicism about the word.

I think many people here would like quite a lot of democracy; they would like some packages of human rights off our supermarket shelf. But what they talk about is injustice - and justice is something that I don't think we're interested in giving to the Middle Fast.

Elections are central to the Western idea of democracy. What effect have they had in the Middle East?

The effects have been grotesque. Every president claims to have a fair election and every presidential election is rigged, which is why you hear that Mr Mubarak gets 98 per cent of the vote and Saddam used to get 100 per cent. It's a mockery, but what's interesting is that people seem to think it adds legitimacy to have an election - even if it's totally rigged. They want to say: 'We have elections too, we have a parliament, we have a president, we elect him', even though we all know that in those Arab countries where there are elections - with the exception of Lebanon, where there is some fairness in the process - it doesn't really count.

Elections here [in the Middle East] are a tool, they are a device; they arcnot meant to explain the thinking of the people: they are meant to explain the thinking of the man who is going to be elected.

So in the Middle East you have mock elections which are supposed to be real ones; in the West we have real ones that often turn out to be mock in the sense that our MPs don't do what we want them to do. …

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