Democracy in the Arabic World

War á la Iraq vs. continued dictatorship – the only options? What is the strategy of PES?

On the 7:th of September is Egypt, the largest Arabic country, holding presidential election. Ten candidates are competing to become the next head of state in Egypt but almost everyone agrees on that present president Hosni Mubarak easily will win. He has been president the last 24 years and he controls the media. There are plenty of political prisoners and foreign election observers are not allowed to follow the election within the country. There is a demonstration ban and the campaign period before the election has only been 19 days in total. No one can argue that this election is democratic.

Nevertheless is the election a sign of that something is going on. Big newspapers and TV channels speculate that Mubarak wants to be the first to introduce and implement democracy in an Arabic country. Some are scared by the thought and compares a democratic development in Egypt to the political development in Algeria during the 1990:s when the Algerian government, strongly influenced by the military, stopped democracy due to their fear of that it would bring Islamic fundamentalists to power. Naturally there is some content in this kind of comparison. The forbidden movement called the Muslim Brotherhood is a large threat to Mubarak and the silent stability he has brought to the country. A stability that is more or less authorised by the US because of the giant’s own silence about the situation of the Egyptian opposition.

It becomes even more interesting to follow the Egyptian presidential election when one also follows the so called steps towards democracy in Iraq, initiated through war by US and its allies. Two war-critical American organisation claimed in the end of August that the Iraq war costs 5,6 billions USD each month – almost the same sum as the yearly expenditure for health care in the Swedish state budget. Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and murdered as a result of the war, the terrorist attacks and the chaos in Iraq since the American invasion. Democracy is far away and so seems also a peaceful solution of the troubled new Iraqi constitution. It seems as it unfortunately will take a while before peace and stability arrive to Iraq.

Egypt and Iraq are only two examples of the US strategic thinking in the Middle East and the Arabic world. One can think whatever one like about the different US country strategies, and one can also discuss the overall strategy behind the actions, but there is no doubt that the US has a strategy about what to do in the region. Some mean that US promotes democracy in the region while other mean that the Bush administration only wants to strengthen their position as the only global super power. When it comes to the first group, claiming the US is doing it of democratic causes, are they always having a hard time explaining why the US is defending the corrupted nepotistic dictatorship in Saudi Arabia.

It’s always easy to complain about others behaviours when one is disappointed with the achievements of oneself. The European Socialist and Social Democratic Movement must never project its disappointments of its own weaknesses and failures on others, even if it’s easy to blame all on the US. Obviously is the Bush administration enormously egoistic, narrow-minded and short-sighted but that is not the biggest problem. The largest problem is the lack of strategy for democracy in the Arabic world and Middle East that is to be find within the European Socialist family. There are injustices in the world and our role is to fight it – but that requires an interest from ourselves and a strategy. How did the European socialist family want to fight the Iraqi dictatorship under the rule of Saddam Hussein for example? It’s easy to be against a war but it’s harder to show true commitment to the fight of an oppressed people’s right to democracy. Another question is how the PES strategy, and action plan, looks for bringing democracy to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait and Morocco. Are they even existing?

The European Union is in crisis and has lost speed in its development towards a better political body, but that should not make a difference for PES. A serious European Socialist movement must have a clear mind on how to handle one of the most urgent questions in our neighbourhood: A democratic development in the Islamic world. A development that is as peaceful as possible always respecting international law. PES must also have the courage and ability to deal with this policy development at the same time as it deals with other urgent international matters such as the poverty in Africa and the HIV/Aids epidemic.

If we as socialists and social democrats aren’t doing it no one else will do it in a progressive way respecting both human rights, the environment and international law. In that kind of world we are left with the injustices of Islamic dictatorships and the short-sighted solutions of Mr. Bush. Hopefully will the PES realise this. In that case can perhaps the slow, but still ongoing, democratic steps taken in Egypt be part of something that goes far beyond both wars and silent authorisations of dictatorships, and that also goes much further than Islamic fundamentalism and governments that stops elections because they don’t like the results. Then these slow Egyptian steps really could be part of a democratic development that benefits everyone.

Laila Naraghi
Vice president ECOSY

From ECOSY Newsletter September 2005