ARURI: Will the US use democracy to divide Egyptians? 13Feb11 February 22, 2011

by Naseer H Aruri  -  The Providence Journal -  13 February 2011

I have long dreamed of a popular, grassroots movement in the Middle East throwing off the shackles of pro-American dictators such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who finally resigned last Friday (11Feb). The army will take over for now.

After hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators barricaded themselves in Cairo’s Liberation [Tahrir] Square and demanded both the immediate departure of Mubarak and a total restructuring of the regime, the world’s biggest nations reluctantly called on Mubarak to resign. He is accused of corruption, profiteering, torture and denial of basic human rights and civil liberties.

As a subcontactor for the U.S., and a principal ally of Israel in its occupation of Palestinian territory, Mubarak incurred the wrath of millions of Arabs beyond Egypt. The Egyptian uprising already promises to generate a seismic regional shift and a possible dramatic change in the regional and global balance of power. The U.S., the organizer of the strategic balance, now has a rare opportunity to re-evaluate its Mideast policy to ward off further disaster and foster stability and justice in the region.

The Egyptian pro-democracy movement cannot help but pin its accusations of anti-democracy on Mubarak and his cohorts. Since September 2001, American administrations have advanced the democracy slogan as a remedy for the malignancy that produced the terrible debacle of 9/11. The culture that produced the perpetrators would have to be rehabilitated, if not restructured, with potent injections of democratic principles and reformist values.

The problem with this cure, however, is that democracy is not a commodity suitable for export and import. The would-be exporter, the U.S., and the importer, in this case the Arabs, are not engaged in a reciprocal arrangement for mutual gain — and definitely not when the U.S. sought to impose “democracy” on Iraq through force of arms. A colonialist legacy and a deficient political culture have militated against the infusion of democracy in the Arab world for centuries.

As long as the region was coveted by foreign powers bent on domination, democracy was kept off the real agenda indefinitely. Democracy entailed independence while colonialism assumed dependency. The Reagan Codicil of 1983 postulated that America will not allow any domestic revolution in the Arabian Peninsula. “Saudi Arabia will not become another Iran,” said President Reagan.

Thus, while it is normal for the American political system to rotate political elites every four years, it was not permissible for the Saudis to do the same. Similarly, the Palestinian Authority has received a guarantee from Washington to remain as Mahmoud Abbas’s fiefdom. A change of personnel there is simply not allowed.

We must ask therefore: Why this sudden discovery of the urgent need for democracy? What kind of a democracy could be kept at bay for decades, but suddenly emerge today as a panacea? The answer to these questions is simple. The neo-conservatives who wielded great influence over George W. Bush’s foreign policy used democracy to justify a war against Iraq that would give the U.S. a permanent foothold in the region.

This time, neo-conservatives see the bottom-up change in Egypt, recognize that they do not control it, but nevertheless sought to steer it in a direction that secures Israel’s ongoing domination of the Palestinians.

Ahead of the war with Iraq, neo-conservatives maintained that democracy and peace in Palestine/Israel would be the dividends of war. They claimed the path to Israeli-Palestinian peace ran through Baghdad. Unfortunately, both promised dividends have proven to be fraudulent, just as the Bush-Cheney rationale for the invasion of Iraq itself has been proven fraudulent. Vice President Richard Cheney made a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2004 in which he argued that democratic reform was essential to a peaceful resolution of the longstanding Arab-Israeli dispute. But that assertion embodied the notion that democracy is the precondition for peace.

Yet the U.S. has used Palestinian democracy to play divide and conquer, pitting Palestinian against Palestinian, while refusing to recognize the democratic outcome Palestinians desired in voting to root out a corrupt Palestinian Authority wedded more to process than to peace. Today, there is every reason to fear Washington will try to use democracy to divide Egyptians from one another and secure an Egypt more concerned with allowing Israel’s occupation and siege policies than advancing Egyptian aspirations and support for Egypt’s Palestinian neighbors.

Palestinians and others in the region won’t be attracted by the virtues of a democracy in which only certain leaders are accepted and one set of corrupt, pro-U.S. and pro-Israel leaders is exchanged for another. Many in the Arab world question America’s moral right to preach democracy and human rights when they see the regimes the U.S. has backed in recent decades around the Middle East.

The pursuits of democracy and re-colonization are not only contradictory; they are irreconcilable. Yet the American desire to maintain a deep footprint in the Middle East inexorably leads to this profound contradiction. With dramatic and long-overdue change rocking the Middle East, this is the time for Washington to break with Israel’s colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and instead back true democratic rule, international law and social justice in the region.

Naseer H. Aruri, a Palestinian-American, is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. His most recent book (with the late Samih Farsoun) is “Palestine and the Palestinians: A Social and Political History.”

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