Sunday, January 30, 2011

America's Dilema: Democracy or National Interests

How will the Arab League and its 22 nations deal with the growing populist outrage against dictators, tyrants, and hegemonies that have dominated the Arab since the beginning of time?   What role will Islamic fundamentalists play in these transformations?  How will the U.S. balance the often conflicting goals between promoting democracy while protecting its interest?   Can a people who have never experienced life in a democracy create a democratic society when opposition parties are banned, imprisoned, uncoordinated, and equally corrupt? 
In Tunisia, the jasmine revolution has been both swift and unique in that it is has been a secular affair.  The impetus was the self-immolation of a college educated youth named Muhammad Bouazizi when he was harassed by security forces while trying to sell fruits and vegetables.  Mr. Bouazizi represented an entire nation’s educated middle class mired in 20%+ unemployment as a result of a corrupt government controlled by the ruling family.  With no organized opposition, the controlling RCD party has tried to form a new government and is being resisted by the populace (“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”).  Yesterday, Rashid Ghannouchi, the exiled leader of the banned Islamic party, Ennahda, returned to Tunisia.  Mr. Ghannouchi claims to be a pro democracy advocate preaching inclusion of all races, ideologies, genders, etc.  Time will tell, though I wouldn’t rule out a return of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali if the opposition is unable to bring any sense of order.
In Egypt, with a population of 80 Million people has rapidly descended into chaos as the state security forces have left the city and now the military has stepped in to provide some sense of order while looting spreads to the affluent suburbs.  President Mubarak must have used the same playbook as Tunisia’s deposed Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, first say you hear the protests, then sack your government, appoint a new heir apparent, and offer all sorts of concessions.  Sorry Hosni, that won’t fly when your first ever Vice President select is Omar Suleiman, your nation’s number one spy and a man associated with extreme renditions.   And just like the Tunisian situation, there is concern that the power void could be filled by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic organization that talks about helping the poor while still wishing Israel off the face of the earth.  Speaking of Israel, its defense forces will be on high alert as Hamas will no doubt take advantage of the crisis in Cairo and increase its smuggling operations through the Sinai.
Protests have also sparked in Yemen, Jordan, and Algeria, not to mention the internal strife in Lebanon with the collapse of the Hariri government and the rise of the Syria/Iran backed Hezbollah.  While we would love to see Democracy spread and flourish in the Arab World, the 22 nations that compromise the Arab League have not had a great track record in Democracy.  There are three democracies in the Arab world: Iraq, Palestinian territory, and Lebanon; none of which would be considered success stories.  The rest of the Arab world runs the gamut from tyrannies like Libya to benevolent autocracies like Qatar.  Be careful America what you wish for; just look at the elections we called for in the Palestinian territories and we ended up with Hamas controlling Gaza and now Hezbollah will be the majority party in Lebanon.
One thing that will definitely continue is the conflict between Democracy and our interests.  The sad thing: Twitter and social networking brought down Tunisian government and possibly Egypt.  On the other hand, we spent trillions of dollars at a cost of thousands of lives to bring democracy to Iraq.  Boy did we over spend.

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