Middle East democracy should focus on variations of Islamic parties

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I am an enthusiastic supporter of President George Bush’s (anybody else’s, for that matter) mission to spread democracy. I would argue, as Bush has done, that this is the most natural yearning of all peoples. My problem is that the US and its lead regional ally seem to stop short of their zeal for democracy once the results don’t please them.

The anti-corruption and anti-dictatorship results of the recent elections in Palestine should encourage every true believer in democracy. In many ways, this is an opportunity to test and perfect how a local community and people customise democracy to reflect their will. At the same time, the openness and diversity of the Palestinian people will ensure that any party which wins will not prevent the rotation of power after an agreed-upon time. This will provide many radical and opposition groups to apply their theories and will most certainly result in moderation and a much more pragmatic approach than that of opposition groups who never dream of ever getting to power.

On the other hand, the US and its allies must approach this opportunity of Hamas with an open mind and without looking at this Islamic group strictly from the point of view of right-wing Israelis.

As a Palestinian Christian, I must confess that I am not thrilled with Hamas’ success. But I would not, for a moment, agree to deny it the opportunity to govern our people.

For the first month since its elections, the general mood among almost all my friends who would never dream of voting for Hamas has been of total support for it to govern. Since the election, many have been discovering the depth of the problems and the corruption that have dogged the Palestinian society for some time. For this reason, the attempts to punish our people through denying them the taxes Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority or the small grants from USAID earmarked for the Palestinian people are completely unfair and unacceptable. Compared to the billions of dollars American taxpayers pay to Israel (in military and civilian aid), allowing it to perpetuate the conflict, the small grants to Palestinians are nothing but meagre change.

International humanitarian law prescribes that the Israeli occupiers has to ensure all the public needs of the people under occupation. By denying the freedom of movement to people and for goods, and by blocking financial support, the Israeli actions can be described war against the Palestinians.

Politically, the US needs to look at the situation in a completely different way. For some time, political thinking about the shape of democracy in what Bush likes to call the Greater Middle East has largely focused on two political forces: moderate, secular nationalist forces versus radical Islamic forces. Western countries back moderate secular elites which have been mostly strongly connected to ruling powers. This Western support for secular forces has largely required the recipients to keep cheap oil flowing, anti-Israeli actions limited to lip service and pan-Arabism held in check. When these three conditions were violated by Saddam Hussein, he became enemy number one to the US and its allies.

The Bush administration’s failure to convince the world of its weapons of mass destruction justification forced it to make a quick change and adopt Thomas Friedman’s argument that the war on Iraq was a war against dictatorships and for democracy.

Now that Palestinians have overthrown a moderate secular nationalist power, the democracy justification has quickly been placed in doubt. America and Israel’s anti-Palestinian actions following the Hamas victory have shown that the US is unable to deal with the democratic game. Attempts to economically blackmail the Palestinians into refraining from electing Hamas have badly backfired, leaving the Bush administration and its democracy theme in major trouble.

To move ahead, America and the West should stop panicking any time a political party has the word Islam in it. The US should support the Arab people’s right to choose the right rulers. Just like Europe has Christian Democratic parties and other parties using the word Christian, why can’t we have choices of Islamic parties?

A recent article written in Lebanon spoke about leftist Islamists who were trying to copy the cases of South America’s liberation theology socialist priests.

Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have once in a lifetime opportunity to encourage democratic forces in our part of the world (whether secular or Islamist) by staying the democracy course and engaging the winners of truly freely elected representatives. Such political engagement will, in the final analysis, provide what people in our region badly need: a truly representative government that is attuned to their needs and is engaged in the world around it.

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