Sunday, November 27, 2005

It's still the freedom, stupid

The recent Egyptian election fiasco (where the Egyptians tried to forcibly limit the Muslim Brotherhood's chances) and the recent Fatah elections show once again the fundamental problem with promoting "democracy" in the Arab world in the wrong way. As this article I wrote in January describes, we should be promoting freedom first, not democracy:

Elder of Ziyon: It's the freedom, stupid: "The Western world has been falling all over itself, breathlessly praising the Palestinian elections as an example of 'democracy' and saying that it shows that Palestinians are now mature members of the exclusive club of democratic nations. The Palestinian spokespeople like the exerable Ashrawi are also jumping on the bandwagon of 'See? We proved we are democratic!'

Even the more skeptical pundits, those who point out that the election was a foregone conclusion, and that the PA threatened those who wouldn't vote for Abbas, and the fact that many ballots were cast multiple times, seem to think that if the election was truly fair, it would herald the start of a new era in the Arab world.

But almost everyone is missing the point. Elections aren't a magic panacea that turns terrorists into upstanding public citizens. There were sham elections in the old Soviet Union and Iraq as well, and Hitler was 'democratically' elected.

People are mixing up elections and freedom. Freedom is the prerequisite for true democracy.

Only in a society that has true freedoms, of press and religion and freedom to demonstrate, where the marketplace of ideas is available to all, where there is no fear of publicly stating unpopular opinions - only there can one hope to see truly fair elections, true democracy where each person can freely make up his or her mind.

It is a reasonable assumption that people want to be free. It is reasonable to assume that people who enjoy freedom will not be as interested in starting wars with other nations without good reason. But it is by no means guaranteed - it is entirely possible that Egyptians would vote for a state based on Islamic law (and then they would voluntarily take away their own freedoms.)

But if we want to promote democracy, we need to first promote freedom, we need to promote equal rights for women, we need to set the groundwork where true democratic leaders can emerge.

A society where there is no functioning justice system, where the rulers can act with impunity, where the media is controlled tightly and reporters threatened, where the schools are told to teach hate - this is not a free society, and this is not a democratic society.

It is disheartening to see so many people get so excited over something that doesn't exist.

Egypt is the flip side of the same coin. The US, by promoting democracy over freedom and wanting to fight terror, is then put in the hypocritical position of supporting free elections and simultaneously supporting Egypt's attempts at stopping the pro-terror Islamist groups from winning.

Push freedom of the press first. Allow the marketplace of ideas to flourish in the Arab world. That should be the number one priority in reform, not rushing to some sort of magic elections.