Friday, October 21, 2011

DAY 113 COUNTDOWN TO EGYPTIAN DEMOCRACY

The impetus for writing this blog was the Egyptian uprising and my and my daughter's skeptical  reaction to the Western media's frequent reporting as if democracy in the Arab world was just around the corner. Pundits like Tom Friedman and Fareed Zacharia were on the air giving the impression that freedom and light and springtime were just a matter of months.

Many popular commentators were declaring Arab freedom and democracy as if the uprisings were giving birth to it at that moment. Friedman was one of the biggest cheerleaders. And, of course, he didn't miss a chance to scold Israel for being just a bit worried about how things might evolve. Of course, he doesn't live anywhere near the Israeli-Egyptian border.

Our cynicism led us to decide that the march to Egyptian democracy needed a countdown and so the Coundown to Egyptian Democracy was born. To give the pundits a little leeway, we decided to give it an entire year. We are now at Day 113.

Things are a long way from what Jefferson or any other sane person would have characterized as democracy, to put it mildly. After months of fighting, Gadhafi is finally gone, but what will come next is an open question. 

I notice that the Libyans are very fond of shooting guns and even heavier weapons into the air in celebration of their victories.  They seem to be doing it incessantly.  Do these folks realize that the ammo costs a lot of money, money that they have had to borrow and that might be needed to rebuild their country?  More specifically to their own well-being, do they realize that what goes up must come down?

Coptic Christians are under fire in Egypt, where the annual sale of palm fronds to Israel for use as roofs in sukkahs (temporary shelters used for the holiday of Sukkot) was halted because it apparently showed too much love for Jews. (Christians are under fire and pressure in many Arab nations.  In fact, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population has been increasing.) Turmoil and killing continues in Yemen.

Close to 3000 have been murdered by the Syrian regime. Thousands more have been arrested and undoubtedly tortured. It is still a wonder why Gadhafi, while truly an irritating figure but not much of a factor on the geopolitical scene, justified NATO involvement, and Syria's president Assad, truly a murderous tyrant whose country is strategically very significant to the West, continues to get a free pass.

 The UN cannot muster the votes to condemn or sanction Assad, while it has no problem issuing condemnations of Israel. That 3,000 dead figure is triple the number of Palestinians killed in the
war in Gaza, started after thousands of rockets from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians. About 700 of the approximately 1,000 Palestinians killed in the Gaza War were terrorists.

While the UN is impotent in responding to the outrage in Syria, it managed to judge and condemn Israel before its investigation even started.  Then it managed to issue a very hostile report, the now discredited Goldstone Report, that the primary author, Judge Goldstone, later repudiated in large part.

In short, the Arab "Spring" doesn't seem to be springing forth all that fast. This is not a great surprise. Anyone who reads history knows that revolutions do not usually produce calm, democratic regimes the morning after the revolution. Revolutions usually begin a series of steps, such as upheaval, retribution, capital flight, and the like before hopefully evolving into a government that respects individual rights and responds to the will of the people.

This is also not a great surprise to those who have spent a little time studying the Arab world.  There is little in Arab politics, culture,or history to indicate that Arab nations are likely to adopt western-style democracies.

 That is not to say that they must be consigned to be ruled by the kind of brutal dicatorships that have dominated the region for the last 50 years.  It is quite likely that some could adopt a form of consensual governance, with some expanded individual freedoms, that is consistent with traditional models of governance in the Arab world.

But none of this appears to have informed or chastened Friedman and Zacharia and their fellow troopers. Indeed, just before I left the U.S. for Israel a few weeks ago the two of them seemed to be everywhere on the airwaves explaining why things haven't gone quite as smoothly as they thought they would.

Even though their predictions were off the mark, they did not seem the least bit reticent to opine on how, with a little push here and a little tug there, the road to democracy in the Arab world would surely soon be a smooth ride. Friedman and Zacharia were so omnipresent that I began to wonder if they work for free.

The Countdown, and the hope, continues its march toward Day 1.

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