As democracy in Iraq tries to cobble together a fragile peace,
with no idea if it will hold, I thought it would be instructive to take a look back at the notion of "The Arab Spring," the idea expressed earlier in the year that Iraq indeed was a beacon of freedom and democracy that was spreading its wings far and wide across the Arab and greater Muslim world. You'll remember that President Bush described this in his Second Inaugural Address
(jeez, that's painful to write) this way:
By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well as a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power; it burns those who fight its progress. And one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.
Kind of an unfortunate metaphor, fires of freeedom, particularly in the wake of our firebombing freedom into at least two corners of the globe recently. POW! "Look at the fires of freedom consuming that hospital!"
This notion of the Arab Spring was expressed by Townhall columnist Jeff Jacoby:
Iraq's stunning elections have given heart to would-be reformers across the region. In Beirut, tens of thousands of anti-Syrian demonstrators brought about the fall of Lebanon's pro-Damascus quisling government. (As of last night, however, the Lebanese Parliament was poised to restore the ousted premier.) Saudi Arabia held municipal elections, the first democratic exercise the Ibn Sauds have ever allowed. On Monday, hundreds of activists demanding suffrage for women marched on Kuwait's parliament. Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak has promised a genuine (i.e., contested) presidential election. And Syria's military occupation of Lebanon is drawing such international condemnation that Bashar Assad, the Syrian dictator, has begun to pull his troops back to the Bekaa Valley.
It is being called an ''Arab Spring," and Bush's critics are right to give him credit for helping to bring it about.
So how's that going, then? What's REALLY happening in this Arab Spring?
Well, in Egypt, a court sentenced secular reformer Ayman Nour
to five years in jail for forgery. This comes after his party was resoundingly defeated in the Presidential and Parliamentary "elections" there, where Hosni Mubarak ended up with 89% of the vote. The arrest was clearly a move to silence the only credible opposition voice to the Mubarak regime, and while it was met with scattered protests and US condemnation (rightly so), these are not expected to change anything. In the Egyptian Parliament, nobody gained so much as the radical Muslim Brotherhood, leaving the country with a Hobson's choice between a dissent-crushing fiefdom and an Islamic Republic.
This similar choice in the Palestinian elections has led Israel to call for a removal of Hamas
from the ballots, threatening to close East Jerusalem to voting if their demand is not met. Hamas is likely to do very well in these elections, an outcome which Ariel Sharon believes would be "an end to the peace process." One would hope that Hamas' entry into the political arena would be a moderating influence. But continued rocket attacks out of Gaza (leading Israel to install a 3-mile a security zone) are a bad sign.
Meanwhile, Iran elected an Islamist
who has denied the Holocaust and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map." Steven Spiegel
summed this up a couple weeks ago in an LA Times op/ed:
Since the invasion, other Arab governments have spoken in favor of Middle East democracy. But most of those statements, especially in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have amounted to nothing more than talk intended to assuage the Americans. Only in Lebanon and Palestine has democracy made substantial advances. In both, the breakthroughs can be attributed more to the deaths of Syrian and Palestinian leaders than to the invasion of Iraq.
Everybody on the right was very willing to jump on this notion of the Arab Spring because it would validate their beliefs and justify the invasion. But wishing doesn't make it so. This is a long-term project in the best interest of the United States, and if there were an actual push for democracy that was succeeding I would be the first to hail it. So far, it appears to be sound and fury signifying nothing, and projecting democracy on a region where it's artificial actually hurts the cause. If Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Pakistan are allowed to get away with simply paying lip service to democracy, then THAT will be the great lesson for the Arab world, not the fractious democracy project in Iraq.
So the Right will continue to strain themselves trying to connect Bush Administration policies to a flowering of democracy that is a mile wide and an inch deep. Meanwhile governments in the region, faced with no accountability, will continue to jail dissenters, terrorize citizens, deny women's rights, and lead to nothing so much as a burgeoning of theocracy, a kind of Islamist Spring.
The "Arab Spring" idea was another facile projection of hopes and dreams that remain, sadly, firmly outside of reality.