When democracy isn’t democratic

Not to curdle the Christmas pudding or anything, but it’s hard to see how Uncle Sam comes out a winner in any of the elections that have just taken place in the Arab world.

This isn’t to contradict President Bush, who said, referring to Iraq’s parliamentary elections, we’re seeing “something new: constitutional democracy at the heart of the Middle East.” But the emerging nature of this constitutional democracy — from Iraq to Egypt to the Palestinian Authority (PA) — calls into question whether, as the president also said in referring to Iraq, “America has an ally of growing strength in the fight against terror.”

For that statement to be true, Arab voters would need to be electing brave anti-jihadists, dunking their fingers in purple ink for reform-minded advocates of equality and freedom of conscience, not to mention peace with Israel. But with nearly two-thirds of the ballots counted in Iraq, the initial headlines tell a different story.

“Parties Linked to Tehran Gain in Iraq,” reported the New York Sun.

“Secular candidates not doing well,” reported the Los Angeles Times.

Apparently, that’s putting it mildly. So far, election returns indicate that the Shi’ite Muslim religious coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), has overcome internal tensions and weak projections to win a dominating bloc of parliamentary seats. That means that the democratic enterprise in Iraq appears to have empowered proponents of sharia law with alarmingly close ties to the terrorist masters of Iran.

Little wonder, then, that something approaching jubilation is the reaction in Tehran. “It is a victory because the results were the opposite of what the Americans were seeking,” said Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president of Iran.

If out of democratic Iraq emerges a sharia state allied with Iran, then President Bush is wrong about the transformative powers of the democratic process (emphasis on process). In other words, what we see in Iraq and in the rest of the Muslim world is that the political freedom to vote doesn’t guarantee election results that the West would in any way equate with political freedom. Amid claims of Shi’ite election fraud, one liberal party candidate, Mithal al-Alusi, told the New York Sun: “We may have just traded the Ba’athist fascists for the religious fascists.”

This isn’t to say scrap the war, but there is a deepening disconnect between Western democracy theories and Muslim democracy realities that urgently needs to be confronted and assessed.

And not just in Iraq. A similar story unfolded in Egypt where, contrary to Washington’s wishes and projections, November elections also yielded results that were more democratic, but not more liberal. As the San Francisco Chronicle reported, “Most liberal, secular reformers lost their seats, while a banned Islamist party” — the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) — “became the most important opposition bloc in parliament.” The MB platform? “Islam is the solution.” As political analyst Hala Mustafa told the Chronicle, “It was a complete defeat for the liberal political tendencies.”

All of which is why I beg to differ when the president says, “the terrorists know that democracy is their enemy.” From Egypt, where sharia-supporting terrorist-ideologues are being elected, to Iraq, where sharia-supporting terror-state-allies are being elected, democracy is not their enemy. It is vox populi. And just because the people have spoken doesn’t mean we should applaud what they say.

(Diana West is a columnist for the Washington Times.)