January 25, 2006
The Year of Arab Democracy
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
This is Column # PI4.
Request permission to publish here.