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  Paul's Column Archive
January 25, 2006

The Year of Arab Democracy


Many will look at 2005 as a year of terrorism and tragedy. Londoners will remember it as the year they suffered their miniature version of 9/11, while people in Jordan and India are still mourning the victims of terrorist attacks that took place on what were supposed to be days of celebration. Between car bombs and political assassinations in the Middle East, and the violent loss of life elsewhere, there is no doubt that the sixth year of the millennium will be understood by many as a demoralizing one. 


Yet the untold story is quite different. The year 2005 might very well turn out to be the one that radically changed the course of history for the better. It is the year where democracy took solid root in some Arab countries, and got a foot in the door of many others. It is the year where young Muslims were presented with an alternative to radicalism, with a way of life that simultaneously accommodates freedom with one of the world’s great religions. 


If there was a silver lining to the horrifying events of September 11th, it is that they accelerated the spread of democracy in the Arab world. After a successful experiment in Afghanistan, an unlikely home for a democratic structure, the Bush administration ignored pseudo-intellectual multiculturalists and proved that democracy is possible in Arab and Muslim countries.


Iraq, located in the center of the Muslim world, and embodying the two largest sects of Islam, was the perfect location to lay a foundation for freedom in the Middle East. Surely weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s repeated violation of UN resolutions and human rights were reason enough to overthrow the Baath regime. Yet a more important gain of the Iraq War is the prospect for the spread of democracy in the Arab world. Three Iraqi elections in 2005 were immensely successful, and democratic institutions have been, and continue to be, established in the country. With its ability to accommodate an ethnically and religiously diverse population, Iraq has proven capable of serving as the archetypal democracy in the Arab world.


The effects of both Iraqi democracy and the display of the American will to achieve it, as was evident through the use of force, can be seen in the steps toward democratization that were taken by Arab countries in 2005. Kuwait, for instance, doubled its electoral base by allowing women to vote, a move considered quite bold for a Gulf state. Neighboring Saudi Arabia has for the first time allowed municipal elections, and though such a step is hardly a sign of full-fledged democracy, it is quite remarkable for a kingdom that only a few years ago would have probably forbidden class council elections in its schools. 


The Palestinians also had a successful experiment with their own elections, in a move that comes hand in hand with building a more peaceful relationship with their Israeli neighbors. Slightly to the north, Lebanon experienced one of the most exciting years of its eventful history. Thanks to American efforts and a failed attempt by the Syrian government to respond to them, Lebanon was rid of a military and political Syrian occupation that had for years prevented the rise of democracy there. Although faced with a number of political assassinations, the Lebanese for the first time held elections free of Syrian interference, electing a pro-democracy, anti-Syrian majority.


Syria, ironically enough, which has solidified its position as the most dangerous country in the Arab world, is now a sea of darkness that is surrounded by the four most democratic states in the region, as well as the Kingdom of Jordan, which has also undertaken democratic reforms recently. In light of this reality, it remains to be seen how much longer Syria can continue its regional activities of tyranny and destabilization. 


And let us not forget another great Arab democracy success story in 2005: Egypt, the land of 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta. After 24 years of monopolizing the presidency, Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak bowed to U.S. pressure by allowing challengers to contest his seat through multi-party elections. As both the most populous and the most culturally influential country in the Arab world, there is little doubt that a democratic Egypt would expedite the spread of freedom in the Middle East even further. Although certainly not what Atta had in mind, his actions on that Tuesday morning worked only to expedite the arrival of the democracy he so hates into his native country. 


Terrorism is the greatest global threat today, and democracy is the best antidote to it. In combating radicalism through the spread of freedom, 2005 has been the best year for world peace in post-Cold War history. Despite numerous terrorist attacks and the valuable lives they cost, history will look back at this year quite favorably. While it would be wonderful to regain the lives of thousands lost, it is significantly more important to appreciate the role of Arab democracy in preventing the loss of millions more in the future.


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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