Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Embracing the opportunity (and risks) of Arab democracy (EN)

As the authoritarian order in the Arab world is shaking in the face of popular uprisings that have broken through the socially entrenched fear barrier, an equally epic struggle is taking place in the West to come to terms with its own fears vis-a-vis the Arabs, and to comprehend the until recently unimaginable prospect of Arab democracy. 

For the West, the current dilemma is whether to embrace what looks like the chance of an unprecedented democratic opening in the Middle East (and, yes, with all the risks associated to it), or stick to the old comfort zone of familiar dictators who deliver "stability and security" in a volatile region.

This shouldn't be a dilemma at all.
For the "realist" position of privileging "stability" over change is riddled with inconsistencies and, in the longer term, breeds risks at least as serious than those associated with the alternative.

There is an obvious contradiction in, on the one hand, proclaiming that Arabs are not ready for democracy, and, on the other hand, siding with the dictator against the people in the street who call for freedom and democracy. In other words, the Arabs are losers no matter what - whether they accept dictatorship, or rebel against it.

If one accepts the idea that democracy is not for the Arabs, then the West's (and in particular the US right wing's) claim at the superiority and universality of its democratic values is devoid of meaning. The democratic values are either universal, and then accessible to Arabs as well; or confined to certain religions and cultures, in which case there is no basis whatsoever for claiming any moral superiority of democracy, or expect others to live up to its standards. 
Incidentally, the claim that some peoples cannot possibly meet certain standards (that others have set for them) is, at its core, fundamentally racist.

For the West, recognizing the democratic aspirations of the Egyptians and other Arabs - in fact, a cry for justice, rights and dignity that resonates with any sensible human being - and embracing the rare opportunity of a new beginning in its relations with the Arab world, would simply mean living up to its declared principles, as opposed to abandoning them and submitting (again!) to what may seem expedient at a point in time. In the long run, this is the only effective conduct, and the only possible way to prevail in an otherwise unwinnable standoff with Islamic terrorism.

For Israel, the stake is about finding a modus vivendi with the Arab people, as opposed to just placating some dictators. A rather tall order, indeed, but which holds much promise.

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