Friday, June 22, 2007

Elections Can be Bad Too

Hamas’s violent takeover of Gaza came to many observers as a surprise. To those of us who are more familiar with the region and know the mentality of militant Islamic groups like Hamas, the recent events were less shocking. But regardless of Hamas’s nature, the fact that fair elections in the Palestinian territories brought them to power cannot be disputed. The Fatah establishment decided to refuse to share power with the newly elected members of Hamas. At the same time, the Western world boycotted the Hamas government with the intent to paralyze Haniyeh’s cabinet. Less than a year later, violent clashes broke out in Gaza – Hamas’s stronghold- and Fatah was routed, at least temporarily.

Elections alone do not bring democracy. As a matter of fact, the democratic process does not necessarily begin by holding free and fair elections. The U.S can pressure Saudi Arabia or Egypt to hold free and fair elections tomorrow and guess who will be triumphant? The current corrupt rulers or the radical Islamic hardliners? Your guess is probably correct. And once they come to power they will most likely behave in an irresponsible fashion, just like their predecessors.

A Western democratic form of governance does not serve the needs of every nation. The truth is that many countries in the world will reject those democratic values we cherish so dearly. Free speech in the Muslim world can only go so far. Try drawing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad for instance and see what will happen to you. Western democracy is not for everyone.

That does not translate into support for dictators in the Middle East. The first step towards a stable system is political tutelage. People of any given land ought to learn how to respect their opponents’ views no matter how repugnant those views might be to them. There is a lack of tolerance in the Middle East. Lack of tolerance for opposing political, religious and social views. Without greater levels of tolerance, holding a thousand free and fair elections will make no significant difference. The ruling parties or factions cannot come to power with the intent of eradicating the opposition, what Hamas and Fatah have been doing to one another. Many countries in the Middle East are not ready for full fledged democracy yet and no one can force them to change over night.

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