The US is behaving as though it has the patent on ’democracy’. In the same way it exports Uncle Ben’s Rice, Starbucks and F16s to the Middle East, it is eager to impose its own stars and stripes brand of ’rule by the people, for the people’.
The US wants us to believe that democracy comes in one size and fits all like a ‘Made in America’ T-shirt. It has attempted to bestow upon this system of governance, which has its roots in ancient Greece, an almost religious aura. Those who challenge it are unfairly dubbed communists, fascists, despots or dictators.
It’s time to break this contrived taboo. We must analyse America’s motives in trying to remake this region in its own image. We must question whether Western-style democracy is right for us. And we must ask ourselves whether there is a better solution; a home-grown solution based on who we truly are and what we need.
Washington arrogantly tells us democracy is the only way forward for this region in spite of the fact that the Arab world has functioned without it for thousands of years, producing remarkable thinkers and accomplishments in the fields of literature, mathematics, philosophy and science.
This is not to imply that many of our governments are perfect – far from it - but neither are Western so-called democracies where citizens are often indoctrinated into believing they are free when many are not.
What is freedom?
Now for an important question: what constitutes freedom?
First of all, before anyone can be free, their basic needs – shelter, food, education, healthcare and security – must be satisfied.
What use is a ballot box to someone who is living in a cardboard box on the streets? What value is a vote to a person who cannot afford to pay for his child’s bone marrow transplant? What good is a passport to a person who cannot pay for a ticket to travel?
Yes, they may be citizens of a democracy but if that country isn’t able or willing to care for them, ’democracy and freedom’ are little more than an irrelevant intellectual concepts.
This was illustrated last year when Hurricane Katrina hit the American state of Louisiana. The ensuing flood destroyed more than homes. As the world watched in disbelief, the myth of the American Dream was dramatically shattered away from the tourist centre of New Orleans were third-world type suburbs are populated with mostly African-Americans, the poorest of the poor.
When evaluating the American system, which isn’t a true democracy but officially a ‘Democratic Republic’, it’s worth noting how little say ordinary people have when it comes to choosing their president, who must first have the approval and financial backing of corporate campaign contributors.
It’s no accident that in recent years, there have been political dynasties in the US, notably the Kennedy’s and the Bush’s. While, who knows, in 2008, we may be able to add the Clinton’s to that list. In a country that boasts a population of almost 300 million, are we to assume that the best people to govern are ‘coincidentally’ drawn from just a few families?
In essence, while voters are led to believe they are in charge of their own destiny they are, in fact, presented with only two choices – Democrats or Republicans. Anything else is a virtual throw-away vote. The way that the Electoral College system is devised also means the president also-ran and may have garnered more of the popular votes than the ‘winner’, which flies in the face of the one-man, one-vote concept”.
So the American way is not so much ‘rule by the people, for the people’ than ‘rule of the people, by a military-industrial complex’, albeit dressed in a democratic façade for the benefit of a naïve and trusting public.
’New Middle East’
George Bush and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talk of a “new Middle-East”, presumably designed in America’s image. They deliberately ignore our history, heritage, culture, traditions, religions and sects or the fact that any system of good governance must be drawn-up with such complexities in mind.
Have you ever asked yourself why the Bush administration is so determined to democratise the Middle East? Do you seriously believe Mr Bush, a man on a mission, sheds tears for our people?
Don’t you ever wonder why a country thousands of miles away spends so much time effort and money trying to change the Arab world, while turning a blind eye to the suffering of millions in Africa and Asia, not to mention the 43 million Americans unable to afford health insurance, including millions who live below the poverty line?
Why is Washington obsessed with our region? There is a simple answer: the US wants to preserve its strategic partner Israel’s security and control this region’s precious natural resources. To do this effectively it needs to weaken current leaderships by stirring up internal strife under the standard of democracy and freedom.
Then, it hopes to insert US-friendly puppet governments that will make the interests of their own people secondary to those of America and Israel’s.
We must not fall for this elaborate con. And make no mistake it is a con as we can see from America’s failed experiments in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine.
During a speaking engagement in Salt Lake City on August 29, Condoleezza Rice had this to say on the subject:
“Who could have imagined the positive changes we have already witnessed in places as different as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait and Morocco, and Jordan? And who could have imagined that the people of Lebanon would stand up by the hundreds of thousands and call for a new democratic future to begin?”
“And, of course, who could have imagined that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, after years of tyranny and misery, would turn out by the millions to make their voices heard and to vote for a better life?”
Who was she kidding? Yes, they did vote for a better life, but the problem is due to American interference, they ended up with a worse one.
She did not mention that the Taliban have regrouped in lawless Afghanistan where young Afghan girls are afraid to leave the house for fear of being abducted or that this year’s opium poppy crop – destined for the streets of Europe - was the biggest ever.
She didn’t mention that Iraqis are dying at the rate of more than 50 every single day, an intolerable statistic that fuels demands for the country to be split into three. Indeed a recent Pentagon report suggests Iraq may be on the verge of a civil war. And she didn’t explain that Iraq’s ‘democracy’ is nothing more than a farce when most individuals automatically vote for their own tribal or religious leaders, which is a recipe for majority ethnic or religious group dominating all others.
She didn’t mention her government’s deliberate destruction of the Palestinian National Authority that was voted-in as a result of free and fair elections and she failed to condemn Israel’s kidnapping of duly-elected cabinet ministers.
She didn’t mention that if Egypt were pushed into amending its constitution and electoral system before conditions are right, the country could be thrust into chaos with investors fleeing for the hills.
And she certainly didn’t allude to her government’s betrayal of Lebanon’s democratically-elected pro-US government that pleaded with her to call for an immediate ceasefire as whole sections of the country were reduced to mountains of shattered concrete.
Condoleezza Rice is an intelligent woman. So we must construe that she is intent on pulling the wool over our eyes to suit her administration’s true objectives. She knows that the Middle East isn’t a single monolith. She knows it is richly made up of different religions and sects, and she surely knows that our region needs strong leaders able to inspire populations and heal sectarian divisions.
Enough is enough! Please don’t let’s fall for this misleading rhetoric any longer. We are wise enough to form our own ways of governing, perhaps merging the best of those we already possess with better elements of the Western model.
An existing exemplar is the government of the United Arab Emirates that is grounded in solid tradition but at the same time keeps an eye on the future.
The UAE consists of a Federal government with a Supreme Council that includes the rules of all seven emirates. Its constitution allows for specific powers and autonomy allocated to individual member states. It’s a method of governance that has worked beautifully ever since it was devised in 1971, when the UAE was born.
It delivers spectacular results because, unlike Western democracies where leaders are changed every few years - and with them plans and policies - it offers stability and continuity. Members of the Supreme Council are able to plan for the long term without fear that their projects will be disrupted midway.
Importantly, the rulers of the seven emirates are from families that have gained the respect of the populace down through the generations, and who truly care about the wellbeing of the people; all of the people. There are no beggars here and no-one sleeps under bridges or in shop doorways.
Citizens of the UAE are as free as any who live in so-called Western democracies, arguably even more so, because with wealth and security comes personal freedom. In addition, they have access to the rulers and are able to discuss any problems they might have face to face.
Where else in the world are citizens provided with a free plot of land and an interest-free loan to be paid over a 30-year period with which to build their homes?
Where else in the world does the government pay for its youth to benefit from the best education, either at home or abroad or finance the sick to travel with his or her family anywhere in the world to seek suitable medical treatment?
If the proof is in the pudding, then all one needs to do is take a look at the UAE today; a stable country blessed with one of the highest standards of living on the planet, and one that suffers little from the Enron or Watergate-type corruption that is so prevalent in the US.
People may be tempted to respond with ‘Yes, but the UAE has oil and it is this commodity that fuels its economic and social dynamic’. This isn’t true. There are plenty of oil-producing countries that cannot boast our achievements, and, in any case, many of the emirates derive most of their income from trade, service-based industries, banking and tourism.
Take my own emirate Dubai, for example. Its 30-year acceleration from an arid landscape dotted with oases and fishing villages to a modern 21st century state on par with any in the US or Europe is the result of wise leadership beginning with Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the father of the Vice-President of the UAE and Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.
Dubai is a result of Sheikh Rashid’s dream that was carried through to fruition by his sons. One can only imagine what Dubai would look like today if, in 1971, the UAE had adopted the type of democracy America wants to thrust upon this part of the world.
For sure, there would have been no continuous vision because each elected politician would have tried to impose his own that would likely have been reversed as soon as his successor came along.
Admittedly the UAE model wouldn’t be suitable for all our neighbouring countries, each with its own needs, goals and inherent challenges. But it stands as proof that there is way other than the one America wants to forcibly stuff down our throats.
Some Arab nations and people may genuinely welcome democracy. Provided that this desire comes from the grass roots of society and will not negatively impact on minority groups, then it may be a good thing.
But even more important than putting handy labels on political paradigms to suit Western expectations, our nations must tackle corruption, over-spending and concentrate on generating wealth for all.
These moves are especially urgent in poorer Arab nations where up to 30 per cent of their GDP is often spent making political fat cats and their families even fatter or maintaining the superior living standards of the elite, including the plush lifestyles of retired army officers long after they have permanently hung their uniforms in the closet.
Apart from Scandinavia, if there is one country that symbolises a functioning democracy it is Britain, although we should remember that this system has taken more than a thousand years to form and flourish.
British members of parliament receive a salary like anyone else – currently standing at £59,095, and a modest pension when they retire. The Prime Minister’s salary is approximately double that sum.
They do not walk around with an expensive retinue of body guards during their tenure and are certainly not provided with them by the state once they leave office, as is often the case in the Middle East.
In the final analysis, we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. There is much we can learn from the West when it comes to good governance, but at the same time we should be selective.
We may not be ready or willing to adopt a ‘By the people, for the people’ democracy. But with wise and sincere leaderships that understand that they are the servants of the people and not the other way around, we can make our nations strong, prosperous, just and free…and take pride that we did it our way.