Democratization of the Middle East

President George Bush’s statement of February 2003 about democratizing the Middle East in the post Saddam era found a positive resonance in the region. Democratic forces and elements like me thought that a new dawn is coming. American strategists thought that they can follow the example of Germany and Japan which were democratized after the defeat of their totalitarian regimes during WWII. But the difference with Iraq is that this country doesn’t have a homogeneous society, as was the case with Japan and Germany. Besides, the Middle East is plagued by the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict and by Israel’s military occupation of Arab and Palestinian territories with East Jerusalem embracing the first holy shrine of Islam.    Western carelessness or inability to settle this painful conflict and alleviate the sufferings of the Palestinians makes Western Governments appear as an accomplice in the eyes of Arabs and Moslems. This attitude generates a feeling of victimization and fury and creates a fertile ground for extremist ideas at the people’s level. It also constitutes a source of religious fundamentalism and Muslim extremism.
On the other hand Iraq is a divided society of Shiah Moslems, Sunni Moslems and Kurds. This country plagued by deep hostilities between the two main Arab communities since the birth of Islam 14 centuries ago. The Kurds, as an oppressed ethnic minority scattered in a hostile region of Turks, Iranians and Arabs have been yearning for independence and statehood for decades.  After almost four years of Saddam’s downfall the oppressed Shiite majority ruled by totalitarian Moslem clergy, the “Mullahs” are far from being democratized. Their main priority was to avenge centuries’ long alienation and oppression at the hands of their Sunni rulers. Such a position could possibly lead to the dissolution of Iraq in to three separate or confederated entities. But such a development could only take place when this bloody civil war is over and all warring parties become tired of mutual killings and fratricidal war.
Nevertheless, Democratization is still a necessity for regional development although it is still a far fetched goal in the Middle East. The peoples of this region are still longing for the long awaited Democratization process. But under those circumstances of political and social injustice, such as poverty, joblessness and totalitarian regimes, no body can guarantee that, ballot boxes and democratic elections will not result in to extremism and religious Fundamentalism. When people fail to satisfy earthly human needs they usually refer to Divine power to help them out of their misery.
It is easy to declare war against extremism and terrorism, but it is more difficult to uproot it, or to defeat it in the battle field. To uproot terrorism and extremism one has to deal with its sources and not with its expressions. 
Talking about Democracy in Palestine while people are deprived of their basic freedoms is like putting the chariot in front of the horse. A frustrated and impoverished population cannot be democratic. People under occupation are always filled with anger and hatred against the oppressors and their allies. Oppressed nations usually tend towards extremism and consequently to violence and “terrorism”. The experience of the late January 2006 elections in the Palestinian occupied territories which resulted in to the victory of extremist elements, “HAMAS” is the best experience we can offer to the Western and Israeli strategists.
A deprived and hungry nation cannot be democratic. The state of mind of a humiliated nation can breed but extremist ideologies and the search for transcendental justice. That is the reason why suicide bombers sacrifice their lives on earth to avenge their oppressors and be awarded by a better place in Heaven.
To install Democracy we have above all to end the state of war between the belligerents and put an end to military occupation, oppression and humiliation. Consequently, a fair peace entails stability and security to all peace partners of the region, on local Palestinian-Israeli and regional levels. Freedom or the freedom of movement inside and outside the Palestinian territories is a precondition to Democracy and democratic elections. Needless to reiterate that freedom is a basic component of Democracy, or Occupation and democracy are two contradictory elements which can never converge…
Definitely, economic cooperation on local as well as on regional level is a key element to foster peaceful development in the region and consolidate the peace process. Joint economic projects could create new working opportunities for the young generations to come and fighting poverty and unemployment is prior to launching a costly Don Quixotic war against terrorism. The billions of Dollars allocated to finance the war on “terrorism” could be used to consolidate peaceful development and peaceful coexistence. Such huge amounts of money used to finance the war machine will be more effective if it is invested in financing joint projects and create more job opportunities for the younger generations who eventually form a potential reservoir for violence and “terrorism”.
If the Bush Administration doesn’t realize those facts of life in the Middle East and the miserable situation imposed on the Palestinian people, in addition to the national and social injustices imposed on the other peoples of the region, then no body should wonder why those peoples not so sympathetic to Washington’s policies. Americans and Europeans realize pretty well that the impact of the Palestinian cause and the issue of Jerusalem go beyond the limited borders of Israel and Palestine. Palestine and what it represents in the consciousness and hearts of more than one billion Moslems around the world cannot be treated as a marginal issue. It certainly affects their thinking and consequently their political attitudes as individuals and states. The Palestine question cannot be dealt with as an isolated case which can be ignored, or thrown into the waste basket of history. To do justice to American ideals and interests requires far more wisdom and even-handedness in the Middle East. 

* Mahmoud Labadi served as the spokesperson of the PLO in Lebanon until 1983. He was the director general of the Palestinian Legislative Council until his retirement in 2005.