Jan 28 2005

Global democracy: will it stand the test?

Published by at 3:41 am under Articles,US-Middle East

US President George Bush tickled the fancy of lovers of democracy the world over when he focused his inaugural address in Washington on the priority of fighting tyranny and standing up for the rights of people to liberty and freedom. While it is obvious that Bush will pursue this policy in regards to countries like North Korea and Iran, it is still an open question whether this will be the US policy in pro-US countries. In the world at large, and in the Arab world in specific, there are many who doubt the sincerity of Bush when it comes to his administration’s position regarding the human rights and other rights that people living under the rule of some of America’s allies.

Naturally, the first place that cynics will point to is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How can Bush be serious about the liberty of people and the fight against tyranny and not include first and foremost in this crusade the rights of Palestinians to live in freedom and to be liberated from the yoke of a brutal foreign military occupation. For a while, Bush and his ally in Israel, Ariel Sharon, were able to wiggle out of this cry for freedom by pinning the problem on Yasser Arafat. Now as a result of divine intervention, this excuse is buried, and a freely democratically elected president has assumed leadership. Furthermore, this new elected president has pushed all the right buttons. He said the right things and followed his words by actions. To his credit, President Bush has acknowledged the democratic election of Mahmoud Abbas and his commitment to fighting violence. The fight for the liberty of the Palestinians, however, will not be satisfied by an invitation for Abbas to the White House. Palestinians are expecting and looking for real and concrete action that will fulfill the new promises of Bush, namely to free people who are suffering from tyranny.

While the tyranny of foreign occupation is the worst kind of tyranny, Arabs are also cynical when it comes to the seriousness of the Bush administration in fighting for the liberty of those oppressed by their own rulers. How will the United States react to individuals in countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. The two-year imprisonment of an Egyptian-American human rights activist is still fresh in the minds of freedom fighters and activists in Arab NGOs and civil society movements. American officials have said that the case of Saad Eddin Ibrahim will never be repeated, that the US government will not sit idly by as one of its citizens rots in jail solely because of his championing of human rights, freedom and liberty.

The case of Ibrahim might not be repeated, but the true test of democracy is not standing up for someone who supports you, but in defending the rights of all individuals including those whose opinions you might abhor.

The freedom of expression of individuals, a major tenet in any drive for freedom and liberty is not very well respected in the Arab world, will the second term Bush stand up to the rights of individuals to speak freely? Will he fight for truly free media in the Arab world? Can we as journalists sleep well at night knowing that there will not be a knock on the door or an “invitation for coffee” at the local intelligence service, followed by an imprisonment or even worse things?

Of course Bush and his advisers were clever enough to leave themselves an escape valve when the second term American president said that every country will have to customize democracy based on its own ways. This might be necessary, but there is no doubt what the basic tenets of democracy in any society.

When speaking on this issue Bush also spoke about Western values. Many are concerned that what is really behind this drive is not Western values of democracy and human rights but rather Western interests camouflaged nicely with talk about liberty and fighting tyranny? We have four years to get a good answer to this question.

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