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Reflections On Democracy In The Arab World

Much has been written about recent developments in Benghazi and the senseless loss of innocent lives. Any discussion of the specifics of this crime by me at this point would simply be repetitive. What is worth discussing and could be enlightening is how Western powers view our Arab tyrants, and if they are willing to side with the Arab masses against their oppressive dictators. My direct predication would be that the West does not care how Arab dictators treat their people as long as their oil and geopolitical interests are served well by those dictators. Arab rulers know this simple fact well, and they have been assured that the West would give a blind eye, and would not replace them, as long as they stay obedient and within their confines. This does not require deep analysis. Facts speak for themselves.

I have always felt that our constant problems with Western powers have a lot to do with our absurd forms of government and our total disregards and disrespect for those who don’t share our exact frame of mind. As it stands today, Arabs and many Muslims are the most badly misruled people in the world. Since “all” Arab governments are fundamentally illegal, that makes any agreements or international treaties with them simply worthless. In essence, the Arab world, as a whole, stayed outside international norms, and Arab nations did not deserve to be treated as self-respecting nations. The West was left with no choice but to treat us as irrational dependent nations, and Western policies towards us were more a reflection on us than a reflection on them. The West is patronizing us and does not see us as equal.

That was the backdrop of the rise of all tyrants to power in the Arab world. Arab dictators took advantage of populations that were, for the most part, uneducated, simple, religious and trapped in endless cycles of poverty; Populations that believed that “patience is a virtue” and that it was best to leave our affairs to God and to those in power. Poverty is inherited, and so is submissiveness and lack of determination. When children observe how their parents fear the state, the police, the secret service, superiors or anybody else they may perceive as in position of power -- they too, in turn, become disabled and dysfunctional little beings as well as powerless future adults.

In order for us to move ahead with a sense of clarity, we need to recognize that we have frightened disorganized civilian populations. We need to acknowledge that we are not only facing powerful tyrants who have money and brutal police organizations on their side, but we are facing them with civilian populations that are unarmed, psychologically fragile and unable to fend for themselves. Years of fear and abuse have taken their toll on our civilian populations leaving them in no position to rise and resist. That is precisely what drives those seeking political changes in the Arab world to go to Washington and ask for support. I don’t agree with them but I can’t blame them. With minor exceptions, major political changes in the Arab world were always the result of international currents or other dynamics and not the will of the Arab masses. We can’t claim that we have shaped our destiny. For the most part, we were passive participants. Nasser, in spite of my disagreement with his methods, was the only Arab leader in modern Arab renaissance that captured the hearts and minds of the Arab masses and gave them a sense of how nations can shape their destiny.

Certain factions in the West, particularly pro-Israel neoconservatives in the United States viewed the democratization of the Arab world as a way of recreating a Middle East that is friendly to Israel and to American military, economic and political interests in the region. Arab groups seeking liberation from their dictators, including different Libyan democracy and opposition groups, argued that their goals of bringing down their dictators may coincide with American interests in the region. The war in Iraq and the popular uprising in Lebanon gave other Arabs a ray of hope that help is on the way. But the democratization movement of the Arab world through outside intervention is losing momentum. After the rise of Islamic religious parties to power through elections in Iraq, Palestine and Egypt, it became clear to Americans that the removal of any Arab dictator will pave the way for Islamic parties to rise to power. That is why any talk of democracy in the Arab world as a way to lure Americans into using their massive military and political power to remove Arab dictators is falling on deaf ears now. For that reason, we must accept that change is not coming from outside. We need to do our own homework and create the right climate for change.

Elections and majority rule are important steps, but democracy is not only about elections and the rule of the majority. Before we think about democracy we need to lay the foundation and develop civil societies. Let us just do what is right and decent. Let us give the highest possible value for individuals so that they can control their own lives as long as they respect the rights of others. Let us at least formulate in our heads a society that grants all its citizens an equal protection under the law regardless of color, religious beliefs (including the right not to believe in any religion), gender or ethic background; A society that values human dignity and holds human life as sacred and above all other values. Let us understand that freedoms of speech are meant to protect minority views and not the prevailing popular views of the majority.

The sky will not fall if I disagreed with you or you disagreed with me. So let us respect each other in spite of our differences. Then and only then democracy makes a difference. Otherwise, what we may call a democracy will not be more than the rule of the mob. And finally, before seeking external changes and freedoms from our oppressors, we can take the most logical step and free our selves from our own physical and psychological chains and our own self-imposed oppression. This is a decision that lies within our heads and does not require a permission by a state, religion or any other human being. That is the ultimate freedom and all other freedoms rest on this freedom.

Ziyad B.


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