Is the US Interested in Promoting Democracy?

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Arab World, Democracy, George W. Bush Views: 3534

"Promoting democracy in the Arab world" is all the rage in the US these days. It has become a veritable cottage industry, with serious and not-so serious analysts and ideologues, all getting in to the act. Not a week goes by that there isn't another forum held or a paper published on the topic. 

This is the one foreign policy issue on which the Bush Administration and its critics agree. It is also a subject on which both sides are, all too often, dead wrong. 

While advancing citizen rights and expanding participation in governance are positive goals worth embracing, there are fundamental flaws in the assumptions and intentions that form the underpinnings of the current US discussion about democracy promotion in the Arab world. They need to be explored. 

First and foremost, there is the persistent belief that the US, itself, can be the agent of a democratic transformation of the Arab world. Behind this is the rather nave notion that "Arab masses" see the US as freedom's champion--a transference from the days of the Cold War, when many in Eastern Europe, did, in fact, look to the US to help liberate them from Soviet domination. 

Unfortunately, quite the opposite defines Arab attitudes toward the US today. Zogby International's polling in the Arab world demonstrates that while public opinion still has a somewhat favorable view of American values (although they appear to be declining over time), the strong negatives attached to American policy in the Middle East, put the US and those who associate with it in a sometimes precarious position. 

In fact, when we specifically ask "how helpful can the US be in supporting democracy in your country," we get an overwhelmingly negative response. As a result, the public US embrace of Arabs deemed "moderate" can at times prove costly. This was the case with the ill-fated support the US gave to Fatah in the recent Palestinian legislative election. The revelation, in the last week of campaigning, that the US had provided funding indirectly used to support Fatah candidates was exploited by Hamas to their advantage. 

A further extension of this same flawed assumption is the belief held by some in the US that anti-American sentiment is a fabrication created by Arab regimes as a diversion from their autocratic rule. It is further posited that extremism, born of the denial of political freedom in Arab countries, strikes out against the US because of the support the US has given to some Arab governments. It was this thinking that led to the famous Bush Administration apology last year for "60 years of misguided policy" in the Middle East. 

While there is some validity to the notion that the relationship between the US and Arab government has fueled some extremists, the Bush Administration has framed the problem backwards. It is US policy, not Arab autocracy that has spawned extremism, and it is the support that Arab governments have given to the US, not the other way around, that has sometimes put them at odds with their own people and, therefore, at risk. In fact, as the University of Maryland's Shibley Telhami noted at the advent of the Iraq war, a consequence of that conflict would not be the advance of democracy in the Middle East, but its contraction. With Arab anger at the US increasing, and Arab governments close to the US, facing domestic pressure, they would be less inclined and less able to open up their political systems. 

It is no accident that al Qaeda and other extremist movements have targeted Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, not because of their lack of democracy, but because of their relationship with the US. In a perverse way then, when the US advocates policies based on assumptions such as these, we punish those who are at risk precisely because they have been our friends. 

Then there is the non-empirical ideological belief, popular among neo-conservatives, that democracy, by itself, is the antidote to extremism and anti-American sentiment--the idea behind this being that with the transformations believed to be created by democracy (even if it is crudely imposed), societies and their component groups will put away their grievances and busy themselves in building a new order. In fact, quite the opposite is true. As we have seen in several recent elections throughout the Arab world, where populations are roiled by anger and a sense injustice, the freer the election, the greater the opportunity that this anger and sense of injustice will emerge victorious. Thus in the post-election period we see not a settling down, but a settling of scores. This clearly was the case with the Hamas victory in Palestine and gains won by some sectarian extremists in Iraq. 

Another neo-conservative ideological non-empirical assumption that has sometimes been posited as a reason to support Arab democracy is the notion that democracies don't make wars. This is a tough sell in the Arab world which lived through the 1956 and 1967 wars and in the wake of the US "war of choice" in Iraq. 

Having said all of this, however, in no way negates the importance of expanding freedom and opportunity in the Arab world. Arab academics, professionals and the business community have shown that they can provide significant input in decision-making, if they are given the chance. Arab youth need to know that opportunities exist for their ideas and aspirations. And citizens and non-citizens alike need to know that their rights will be protected and their views respected. 

These are important ends in themselves and they should be supported by all who care to see the Arab world progress. What I am suggesting here is that in pursuing these goals (and they should be pursued) it is important to recognize that democratic transformation is a process grounded in history, requiring social and cultural predicates. 

What I am also suggesting is that if the US wants to be an agent of such positive change in the region, we must understand how we are viewed by Arab opinion and the impact our policies have on the Arab polity. When we change course in Iraq, pursue justice in Palestine, and demonstrate an understanding and concern for Arab needs and aspirations, then we will be in a position to be respected as partners in the pursuit of reform.

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute and can be reached at [email protected]

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Arab World, Democracy, George W. Bush
Views: 3534

Related Suggestions

The opinions expressed herein, through this post or comments, contain positions and viewpoints that are not necessarily those of IslamiCity. These are offered as a means for IslamiCity to stimulate dialogue and discussion in our continuing mission of being an educational organization. The IslamiCity site may occasionally contain copyrighted material the use of which may not always have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. IslamiCity is making such material available in its effort to advance understanding of humanitarian, education, democracy, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, and such (and all) material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.

Older Comments:
What the hell is wrong with you, Doin Phine? You preach democracy and freedom of speach? .. How do your comment fit in your description of democracy and freedom of speach? Anything is said against Muslims and Arabs sits well with you, but try to say something in an unfavourable light about Jews,Christians or Western Societies and you just show your biased character and racism! Whom do you think you are fooling you democratic atheist wannabe with a Muslim usedtobe concubine?
I am Canadian and as a Canadian I reiterate that Canada is a quasi democracy since she is democratic toward Judeo-Christians, whites and those that prostituted themselves to the Zionistically biased government! A Muslim that accepted the 'superiority' of the Zionists and their goyish dogs,e.g.,Waspish pro-Israel Canadians and receives the blame for all evils in the world and promices and proves that he will be forever serving the Western powers-Yes! He is a good Muslim! A good Muslim in my books is the one that upholds the truth and he is in the service of God and for the prevelence of justice for all! And this task goes beyond national or ethnic identity. If my own father did something wrong I will not switch the damage around and present it as a virtue!

"Best of luck to you in this terrible country you describe, and I hope you some how can find your way through and survive this Zionist controlled continent. End of discussion."
What is the meaning of this hysterical fit? Are you p.m.s.-ing? You realized that Canada wasn't that democratic afterall, didn't you? Although don't take me amiss, Canada is the best country in the world. However,it has place for improvement,that's all. As other countries are compared to Canada,they need to rearrange their whole philosophical system of governace.
Doin Phine,I suggest you talk to more than one bracket of the social stratum. Of course, a white Judeo-Christian Anglo-Saxon is in paradise here in Canada,try else.

So you are serious to call Canada 'quasi Democratic', therefore there is nothing left to discuss, any possible common ground of discussion is lost. Best of luck to you in this terrible country you describe, and I hope you some how can find your way through and survive this Zionist controlled continent. End of discussion.

Doin Phine, please! Don't exhibit to me a morbid type of patriotism modelled after the American hysteria! If the citizens of a 'democracy' cannot criticize that democracy then what kind of bloody democracy would that be? The principles of a true democratic governace are still in its ideology than its practice. Agreed. Canada was one of the most democratic countries in the world, not after Steven Harper, when arrests are arbitrarily and Canadians are detained on speculations and ill will from an extremely racist RCMP. Is there one Canada? Or there is a Canada for the Whites, another for the Natives, another for the Blacks, another for the Muslims, etc. I wasn't born yesterday, my friend, only because certain things couldn't happen to me, it doesn't mean that if it happened to the underdog it's OK. I witnessed children being shot dead by Toronto Police for stealing a damned car! The police got away with it with the acclaim of the SIU! How can anybody justify the killing of a child? With one sentence:'He was black.' When a black kid is killed by shooters-by, good for him, nobody gives a damn. If some white chick like Miss Creba is fallen victim, then the whole stinking hell breaks lose! Do you call this democracy? I call it quasi-democracy.
Not everybody is a Zionist. Problem is that those Zionists are holding the reins both in USA and Canada. Having a Zionist in controll is like having an Islamist, both would have a biased judgement for any issue on the market. If he was jewish or Muslim still a fair settlement could be achieved. But since 99% of the Jews are Zionists, not even 1% of the Muslims are Islamists. Can you perceive the difference?

Arabs, Hebrews, Assyrians and Amhara are all Semites, no doubt about that.Problem is not their religion but the fact that one nation, Israel, pushes out another nation,Palestinians, out of their ancestral homes,creating countless numbers of stateless refugees. Think about it. Step out of your cacoon and think unbiasly!

Quasi democratic, that is what you are calling Canada. Canada is one of the most democratic countries in the world with the most non-violent history of any country I know. IF you are looking for credibility, you ain't going to find any with a post like that. Zionist this , Zionist that, my God (just an expression for me!), everybody is a Zionist.

My father told me that Jews and Arab Muslims come from the same area, that they are the same people divided by religion. So how can that be racism. In Saudi schools it is taught that Jews are part pig, but it isn't true, or do you so think. Don't answer I know you don't believe that, but that is what is taught in schools through out the Arab world.

Also moderate Muslims in Canada are saying publicly that Mosques are becoming more radical due to Saudi money, what do you think of this issue?

Finally yes, Canada is Judao-Christian, and there are Jewsish people who live in Canada, and they have their place, along with everybody else! But to say they have undue influence is paranoia unbound.

There is enough room in the Middle East for Jews, Muslims and all other religions, don't you think. I think so!

Enlighten me, Doin Phine, tell me why USA and the herd help the Zionists on the detriment of the Arab world. Why contrary to all reason and common sense US supports the slaughter of the Palestinians and their humilliation by the Israelis on a daily basis? Is it racism? Is it the Jewish Lobby? Is their a connection between US and the Jews more than between other nations? If there was, what more than a bloody hell mutual destination would be there? Explain to me, I'm listening.

Moderate mosque? You are kidding, I suppose, You really think the mosque was the place I got my rational thinking from? It was from the old school mostly when they still taught you partly the truth. As for today goes, I have to redress every damned thing my kids are taught in our Zionist biased schools and even refuse certain teachings to them. Thanks God we are still a quasi democracy where an individual could choose that his child should not be made to do assignments contrary to his/her believes.

USA is spreading its DEMOn-CRAzY,...
There is no democracy here.....
US president gets 50-55% votes...Crazy/ weird..
US President must get atleast 70% to be elected.
US must have more than 2 national parties..
US people are brainwashed from all sources..
US people should become conscious...
ALLAH bless the universe

Hudd says; 'Supporting Zionism is regarded as their single ticket to redemption. This because they believe that if they 'saved' the "chosen people(the Jews)" and helped them reconquest their ancestral homeland, Canaan, God will forgive them the attrocities they did during their bloody history.'

Wow I didn't know THAT was THE reason why we are 'helping' Israel, thanks, now I know why.

Seriously the West is helping Israel, and I'm sure that this is not one of the reasons.

Hudd time to find a moderate mosque to visit!

Real democracy, Romesh Chander? Are you dreaming? Where is real democracy? Where is real Islam or Christianity, Judaism or Hinduism? There is no real thing today. The single true reality is what the individual experiences for himself. That might be gratifying for some, however the great majority of our human family has a rather horrific experience of every day struggle for mere survival. A child dying of AIDS on a soiled matt in a makeshift hut someplace in Africa doesn't give a rat's ass on true democracy. Even though, his nation belongs to a democracy, South Africa, for instance.

To believe that USA and her allies want the welfare of the people of Middle East, with the exception of Israel, is most idiotic in nature. US is a society driven by profit and interest. They do not care of ideologies only in the sense of how they could profit from them. Supporting Zionism is regarded as their single ticket to redemption. This because they believe that if they 'saved' the "chosen people(the Jews)" and helped them reconquest their ancestral homeland, Canaan, God will forgive them the attrocities they did during their bloody history. To mention some, the onslaught of the natives, the massacre of the Mexicans, the Black slavery, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Korea, Viet Nam, Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba, Palestine, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the list goes on and on.

Democracy to the Middle East? You can have it and shove it. Don't force a product of yours on people that don't want it. Like your disgusting McDonald's in India, Afghanistan and now Iraq. Could India or Saudi Arabia sell a product to US that US didn't ask for? I guess not. Why would any Asian country buy a Western product they don't want or need? Therefor, keep your corrupted democracy out of the Asians' sight. Like I said you can have it all(the democracy) and choke on it. Let the Asians be their own masters and come up with their own solutions to their particulate problems. US is far from perfectness.

No, US is interested in having Israeli remain
as a Zionist state with the kiling of Palestinians. Bush/Olmert axis of evil want no stinking peace for the Palestine/Israeli.

Is the US Interested in Promoting Democracy?
NO Not at ALL.

Has its own agenda and plans in the name of Demo Crazy....

US cannot tolerate real democracy in the Middle East. If democracy ever comes to the middle east, US will be thrown out of the middle east in an instant.

Will democracy ever come to middle east? Of course, no. And that will not be the fault of US either.

When US can't promote democracy in Israeli and
principles of humanity. What makes you think that Bush can developed democracy in the entire Middle East.Bush brand - Democracy is to help and aid the Israeli in his view, New Born christian and book of last revealtion, Israeli must remain on top of the world and high influence must take place.


When I hear of American promoting "their" democracy I think of American soldiers slaughtering little children, raping women, massacring entire families, burning people alive, torturing in the most hideous and horrible way, innocent children, old men and women, robbing people, committing murders and hiding their crime by planting false evidence which their government easily accepts, and then go either scott free or get a month in jail. Worst its allies, like UK and other "Muslim" countries merely look away as if it never happened. American solders are portrayed by their media as heroes and people fighting these villans as terrorists. Well the world may have no justice, countries may not care, and many will hope time will make it all go away. How do you make the screams of agony a child being beaten to death by these American and British monsters go away ? How do you wipe the tears of a father or a mother whose daughters are raped and sons sodomized before their very eyes and then shot or burned alive? I know one thing, no true Muslim will ever forget and his grand children of 1000 generations will not forget. I can promise you that. This will remain like salt in our blood for as long as the sun rises .