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October 18, 2006



If Arab democracy fails, it's cheap and easy to blame the US. The US liberated two Muslim countries, putting the beginnings of a civil society in the place of thuggery, allowing their populace a chance to take responsibility for their futures. Democratic elections were held. Secular governments established. If Iraq and Afghanistan backslide into tribalism and anarchy, then, ultimately that's their decision. There are limits to what outside forces can do.

The failure of Arab democracy, in my opinion, has a direct correlation to the failure of Islam to reform into a modern secular and democracy approving entity. As long as half of the population in the ME, females, are excluded from meaningful equal social, educational and political participation there will never be democracy. You can't enslave half of a population and pretend you are a democracy.

How is any realistic foreign policy going to reform a religion?


Me, I don't think you can answer the Arab democracy failure question without a hard look at the Arab regimes themselves: repression, highly sophisticated internal security services, patronage networks, and the ability to sell their enemies (Islamists, used to be Communists) to the US. Can't blame it all on the failures of the opposition, or on Islam.


Geez,..."repression, highly sophisticated internal security services, patronage networks, and the ability to sell their enemies (Islamists, used to be Communists) to the US".... the characteristics sounds pretty interchangeable with the Saudis' second biggest export, after oil, Whabbism.

Maybe the ME regimes in many ways are simply the secular reflection of a religion and culture that has no permissions or inherent ability to behave in a democratic manner. You can't separate Islam the religion from Islam the politics, it's a complete package.

Arabs haven't produced much in the past thousand years. Have they ever really examined why instead of perpetually playing victim? Memorizing the Koran in madrasses isn't an education. Polygamy is archaic and economically inefficient. Illiterate women encourages a macho male culture. When poll after poll in EU countries demonstrate that a significant Muslim minority denounce western culture and prefer sharia to secular laws, then, it's no wonder that thugs stay in power in the ME. You've got to love and want democracy to obtain it. The majority of Muslims simply aren't there

I'm really tired of the it's not all America's fault attitude, BUT.......


Messieurs Cent & Penny:

Well, now we're all waiting for Nickle and Dime to show up with another set of farcial misrepresentations of reality.

First, whoever would claim that the US smash-and-abandon strategies in Afghanistan and Iraq have installed "secular" regimes there (meaning the tribal-Islamist-warlord coalition of Karzai, and the Islamist-militia setup of Maliki) is obviously too far off in his/her own dream world, to be engaged in discussion. As is anyone who for a second thought that the simple installation ex machina of secular Western-style democracy was the a realistic outcome of the invasions.

Second, whoever claims that Arabs haven't given anything to civilization the last 1000 (sic) years, ought to take a class in either maths or history. Or just about any science would do, really.

And if you think Arab or Muslim (you conveniently confuse the two) education normally comes in the form of Quran classes, and that polygamy is a widespread social problem in the ME/NA, you are also strongly advised to visit just about any country in the region to check that against reality.

And about the significant minority who would like religious law in the West, well, you think that's telling about the whole Arabo-Muslim culture. So what then, one asks, does it say about Western culture that Fascist or pseudo-Fascist parties such as Front National, and others with similar aims, are supported by about the same number of non-Muslims in these countries? Is that an indictment of Western culture? Christianity?

Or could it possibly be a reflection of real social issues and political problems, that should be dealt with as such, not as fuel for one's private cultural and religious bigotry?


...."whoever claims that Arabs haven't given anything to civilization the last 1000 (sic) years, ought to take a class in either maths or history"...

Wrong. That contribution was a THOUSAND YEARS ago. So, what's been new in the past 1000 years in terms of innventions, copyrights, patents, science, literature, medicine, technology, civil society, commerce, anything that Arabs can take credit for that is modern and relevant? I'll narrow it down, the past 200 years?

"smash-and-abandon strategies"...hey, they've had their best shot at democracy given to them, no less by outsiders, it's time for Muslims to take the ball and run with it.

"Religious bigotry"? That's rich, given the intolerances of fatwas, dhimmitude, jihad, sharia law as dogma in Islam. Look no further than Darfur for religious genocide.

Trying to smear me as a religious bigot is disingenuous. If you don't like the facts, shooting the messenger is stupid.

Western culture is very tolerant. It takes us awhile historically to galvanize our collective resolve to repel fascism, but, when we do, I can assure you it will happen. Is Islam prepared for another thousand years of rot? Or will the truly brave in that dysfunctional religion/culture have the insight and humility to change?


Oh and, "now we're all waiting for Nickle and Dime to show up" is a real cheap shot that makes a joke of "a blog journal by Middle experts" a joke.



The muslims have certainly given the world much in terms of hatred, misogyny, illiteracy and violence. But whatever useful or original aspects of the culture was strangled hundreds of years ago.
And since you attempted to bolster your weak argument with a reference to some barely known 'pseudo-Fascist' group called Front National, I looked them up:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

Front National can mean:

* Front National, a French political party
* Front National (French Resistance), a World War Two French Resistance group
* Front National, a Belgian political party
* Frente Nacional, a Spanish political party

Hardly relevant, but nice try.

BTW, I have worked in muslim countries, and can reasonably conclude that most of what they have that is worth anything these days comes directly from the French, British, Germans and Americans. For example, there would be little cultural heritage left in Egypt if it wasn't for western archaeologists.

Antonio Manetti

Since I don't understand the polities in the middle east, I find it very hard to understand what a democracy ought to look like in that region.

While President Bush says that everyone wants to be free, in the middle east it seems that what everyone wants is freedom at the expense of the other guy.


Shadi Hamid

Someone said: "Maybe the ME regimes in many ways are simply the secular reflection of a religion and culture that has no permissions or inherent ability to behave in a democratic manner. You can't separate Islam the religion from Islam the politics, it's a complete package."

A question that we would have to examine here is whether religious/cultural stagnation is a symptom or a cause. I would argue that political reform leads to religious reform, not the other way around. Islamic thought and practice has been stifled by an undemocratic atmosphere in which Muslims are not exposed to the full diversity of opinions on issues of importance. In other words, it's unfair to expect Arabs to be engaging in the kind of free-flowing, expansive debates that you allude to when there is no room for freedom of expression and where any form of critical thought is suppressed by the regimes.

Moreover, the notion that Arabs do not desire freedom has no basis in fact. Every poll that's been done on the issue (Pew, Zogby, CSS) suggests that Arabs register some of the highest levels of support for democracy as the best available form of government.



You've turned out even dumber than I thought, so no reason to continue this. But:

1. I was not involved in creating this blog, and whatever cheap shots I may take at you and your peers in the commentary field should not reflect on those who are.

2. You would be strongly advised to read something, anything, on the Darfur question before ever mentioning it again. (And if reading and studying perchance catches on with you as a habit, why not also try something on the Ottoman Empire.)


Front National is one of France's (and thus Europe's) most politically important political parties, and it's leader (Jean Marie Le Pen), whom I'm sure you would be quite comfortable voting for, finished second in the last presidential elections. Also see Germany, Poland, Italy, Denmark, etc, for more examples.

"Barely known" to you, perhaps, but you shouldn't assume that's an argument in your favour.


The "Darfur question", there is nothing in question, but, the genocidal murder of Christians there by Muslims. You refute those facts? Or, you are unaware of the religious identities of the perpetrators and the victims?

But, I'm pleased that you identified yourself..."and whatever cheap shots I may take at you"... as a cheap shot artist. It's the default position of idiots that can't participate in dialogues using facts and reason.


They're all Muslims in Darfur, you sad little cretin.

It's a tribal (mainly Fur, Zaghawa, Mesalit vs. abbala Rizeigat and some minor "Arab" tribes; and intratribal leadership/generational struggles), political (centralism vs. regionalism; and over who gets to sit at the table in Khartum, who gets the most government jobs after Abuja, and who gets the bigger slice of the reconstructio budget) and economic war (nomad-agriculturalist, historically and presently, over hawakir grazing lands; now there's the added question of oil exploitation in southern Darfur, whether real or imagined, and the foreign interest that brings, eg. China's backing of the regime; plus the stresses of desertification; plus the khartumi elite's econmic links to some nomad groups). And, it has also been ideologized, rationalized and much publicized as a racial (Arab/African) war, which, even if it lacks much historical foundation, has indeed started to become a real and significant line of conflict since the 80s, in large part thanks to the Arab nationalist propagandizing and support of the dear brother leader in Tripoli. And it is also interlinked (tribally, politically, militarily, etc -- you name it) with the proxy cold war between Sudan and Tchad.

But it is not in any way a religious war, except for some minor intra-Muslim conflicts that have latched on to the tribal warfare (b/w various Sufi orders and b/w rival local leaders dressing up as religious scholars; and since this is Sudan, the influence of Mahdism and the religio-political ramifications of the rise and fall of the Umma Party). If anything, the Islamic/-ist factor is stronger with the rebels (JEM/Ibrahim, close to Hasan Turabi) than with the government, which has mobilized its auxiliaries virtually only through tribal networks (among the historically landless tribes). The gov only uses the religious factor to whip up national and pan-Islamic resentment towards foreign intervention, not to mobilize groups in Darfur.

Yeah, that's about it. Now you can go look up all those strange foreign names on Wikipedia.


It's sad but typical that this promising site has already been discovered and co-opted by the usual anti-Muslim bigots. It is a lesson for the Muslims that there can never be genuine dialogue with the Christians.

Sitting in an English garden

You'd imagine that before the author had begun he'd have thought this through just for a second: if the lack of democracy is America's fault how is it that the two countries under US occupation - Iraq and Afghanistan - are also among the most democratic?

Likewise, if a lack of democracy is the Americans' responsibility then you'd expect those regimes that aren't backed by Uncle Sam to be the most democratic: instead you've got forty years of Baath party rule in Syria, genocidal Islamists in Khartoum and Khomeinists running the show in Iran.

The failure of democracy to take root in the region is the result of much more profound problems than America’s influence, and is one facet of the region’s failure to come to terms with Modernity. Democracy is the product of particular social values, most specifically the relationship between the individual and the state – and these aren’t necessarily the same in the Middle East as they are in the West.

Trying to explain the region’s problems in terms of geopolitics might be good for grandstanding, but until academics come to terms with the reality of Middle Eastern societies they’ll continue to miss the point.


Indeed, Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi was already talking about the malign consequences of political tyranny on all aspects of civilization a hundred years ago. In horribly purple prose, admittedly, but you can't have everything.

Antiquated Tory

If I can be forgiven for echoing Fareed Zakaria, isn't the stress on Democracy per se putting the cart rather before the horse?
Western Europe did not suddenly wake up one morning and say "Hey, let's have Democracy!" It came about in various ways in different countries but in all cases was a process that came about over many years and was linked to the rise of a large, monied middle class with political interests.
There was also a very long tradition of limited and divided power in Europe beneath the rule of law. This has not been the case in Arab lands, where rulers just or injust have been absolute. This contrast dates back to Europe's feudal period; Amin Maloof in The Crusades Through Arab Eyes mentions it in an epilogue. (I don't have space here to mention the post-feudal development of absolute monarchy in Europe except to note that it was not successful in the long term.)
Another problem with societies like that in the Middle East is that the mass of the people are poor and little educated, have no stake in the system and no interest in abstractions like "rule of law." Given a vote, they will most likely vote for a populist tyranny that will deliver material benefits and suppress the other classes. The elite, corrupt to varying degrees, are frightened of the populist rule, Islamist or otherwise, that would come about if "the People" ever were empowered, and rightly so. The middle classes are comparatively small and non-expanding, defensive of their status and possibly even more frightened of the masses than are the elites. To all classes though the economy is thought of as Statist, where patronage and the good jobs flow down from the central authority.
This is not unique to the Middle East--much of Latin America runs on similar principles and I've heard it described as a 'Mediterranean' model--but it combines with a traditional/Islamist vs modernist/secular dynamic, often trading off in waves, which as another post here mentioned, makes compromise bloody difficult if not impossible, since the very nature of the society is a bone of dispute.
I think the United States has a great deal of effect but conversely little influence on the situation. That is to say, though the US can do quite a lot, what it cannot do is get the outcome it desires. The most extreme example of what I am talking about is Iraq; clearly the US has had a trememdous impact on Iraqi politics but just as clearly, unless you are some sort of nut, its massive intervention has not resulted in what it wanted. You can also consider the Iraq invasion to have been the culmination of years of frustration over none of its Iraq policies producing anything that the US would truly like to have in the region.
Please forgive me for the gross generalizations I have presented above and in an area where I have no specialist knowlege. I just wanted to argue that "democratization" as a foreign policy goal is simplistic and a pipe dream. No outside agency or combination of agencies has the influence, regardless of raw power, to bring this about. The best that can be done is constant pressure to encourage the rule of law and the broadening of economic opportunity.

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