Democracy or Duplicity?

Less than six months after President Bush's inaugural address, the tension between his commitment to democracy and longstanding US security and economic commitments grows steadily more acute, especially in the Muslim world. There is the dilemma of Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov, who allegedly massacred hundreds of protesters in one town but continues to host a US military base in another.

Next up: Azerbaijan, an oil-rich former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea that hosts big US oil companies, a new strategic pipeline for their products, a refueling stop for US military planes - and a government teetering between consolidating a corrupt autocracy and embracing democratic reforms.

Lodged between Russia and Iran, Turkey and Central Asia, Azerbaijan resembles Ukraine a year ago, as it performed a similar wobble - one that ended in a fraudulent election, followed by a democratic revolution. Like former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev - who was elected amid some blatant ballot-box stuffing two years ago - has promised to hold free and fair parliamentary elections this November. 

As it did last year, the Bush administration is trying to push the president to keep his word, without pushing so hard that he ends up in the arms of dictator-friendly Russia or China, or reverses his cooperation with the Pentagon and American oil companies.

Azerbaijan's well-developed political opposition and civil society meanwhile is deliberately modeling itself on the democracy movements of Ukraine and neighboring Georgia. It has built a coalition, chosen a protest color (orange), and united around a demand that the elections be free and fair. If they are not, the opposition will call Azeris to the streets. Already, thousands joined two anti-government demonstrations in the capital, Baku, last month.

"We have learned many important lessons from our Georgian colleagues and our Ukrainian colleagues," says Isa Gambar, one of the opposition leaders, who spoke to me by phone last week. "We are studying very closely their method for coming to power peacefully, and trying to follow their example."

The Azeri opposition is not as united or popular as that of Ukraine or Georgia. But the challengers are far better organized and competent than those in many other Muslim countries. Gambar, who once served as an interim president, says the opposition supports free-market capitalism and the integration of Azerbaijan into NATO and the European Union.

Aliyev, for his part, is the 43-year-old son of a former Soviet politburo member who ruled Azerbaijan for a decade before installing him in office. The rigged election that gave him a mandate was followed by the beating and mass arrest of protesters. 

Still, the secular and Western-educated president regularly charms his American and European visitors. Speaking fluent English, he tells them he is genuinely committed to making his country a democratic Western ally.

Given the US oil and security interests, Bush administration policy-makers would love to believe him. But should they? Skeptics, including some who have been listening to the young Aliyev's pitch for several years without noting any significant change in Azerbaijan, say the administration risks creating a government that delivers economic and security cooperation and mouths words about democracy while practicing de facto dictatorship. As massive oil revenues begin to flow into Baku, US acceptance of another rigged election this year could cement Aliyev into just another president-for-life.

Administration officials say they understand the risk and have made a fair Azeri election a top policy priority. "We are using every bit of leverage we can muster," one official told me. That includes deferring, for the moment, a prize Aliyev very much wants: A pre-election visit to Washington for a White House meeting with Bush. The Azeris have been told a date won't be set until it becomes clear whether the president will follow through on his promises, including a 13-point plan for the elections he recently unveiled.

So far the signs are mixed. After suppressing one opposition rally in May, the government allowed the two last month. It has opened a dialogue with opposition leaders, and there is talk that Aliyev will agree to debate his opponents on national television. 

But Gambar says the opposition still isn't allowed to rally or organize outside the capital and has no access to state media. Electoral commissions at the national and provincial level are still dominated by the government apparatchiks who falsified the 2003 vote.

At best, Azerbaijan could deliver a breakthrough for the Bush administration: A historic free election that would end up strengthening its ally Aliyev. At worst Bush will have to choose this November between another oil-rich autocrat and pro-democracy demonstrators who have taken his inaugural address to heart. Either way, a strategic Muslim country that hasn't gotten much attention in Washington since 2001 will soon be in the spotlight.

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Older Comments:
As odd as it may sound, looking at the facts before us, it was Russia that won the cold war, and to an amazing degree, as the US has now become the very despotic police state that it spent centuries opposing. In the US democracy is only a by word meant to rally a hopelessly empty headed populace happily herded into submission. Like oil and water, US policies and democracy simply do not mix. To the Americans Democracy means blind submission to the authority of church and state. Back to medieval times one may muse, but there is disaster afoot here, when a mad man, a drunk and a gambler is at the helm of a nuclear country, which has not hesitated to use such WMDs in the past, guided and inspired by a litany of fire and brimstone Evangelical preachers in $2000 suits and enough diamonds and gems on their fingers to shame Imelda Marcos, forces his boisterous, arrogant and cruel foreign policy agenda on the world. A democratic State is for, of and by the people. Surely if anyone thinks that is the case in the US must be living on Mars. Americans may want to borrow a page or two from Venezuela or post-Pinochet Chile. Has anyone ever paused to wonder if the US is such a champion of democracy why does it have a history of supporting and coddling mad cap and lunatic dictators in every region of the globe and yet frowns on a people's choice as was and is Hugo Chavez? The answer is simple-.the US has been hijacked and the Americans don't even know it. When the State, Church, Mega-Corporations and the Media gang up on a nation and ram down its throat its ideology and determine what is good for it, watch, record and control every aspect of a person's life - I think its cause for concern. Was it not a similar situation, when life in the American colonies became intolerable under the British yoke that prompted a Revolution? Why the silence now? Or has time made Americans into a feeble cowering people afraid of their own shadow?

Azerbejain is going to be in spotlight and target because NOW it is a MUSLIM country with Oil-Gas resources.Previously this was under USSR and Muslim population was not known.

Any country or part of the a country will be in spotlight from internally or externally and will be in danger if it has the following:

a-)it has good muslim population leaning towards Islam and sunnah.
b-)muslim country leaning towards real Islam and Sunnah, and prosperity, has resources oil-Gas.

May Allah help all mankind and especially muslims to make them good ummah of pbuh,
self independent, self-defensive.Aameen.