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Fri Apr 27, 2012, 01:05 PM


The Fate of Arab Democracy Faced With Religious Conflicts

Posted: 04/27/2012 10:25 am
Raghida Dergham.
Columnist and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, Al Hayat

For one of those competing for the presidency of the United States to be the black son of a white American Christian woman and of an African Muslim man, while the other is from the Mormon community, a controversial religious minority, at the very least due to its practice of polygamy, is only evidence that America is an exceptional country. Indeed, this country, to which immigrants flock in search of freedom and of the opportunity to make something of themselves, is a great country because of its ability to accept a reality in which Barack Hussein Obama is facing Mitt Romney in the race to the White House. This in effect leaps over racism and discrimination against minorities, regardless of the extremism, arrogance, bias, intolerance and prejudice that can be found in the American popular base. Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney bears a name of the type of "John Smith." Both their names are rare and have a strange pronunciation, and American voters are being surprised and are adapting.

This does not mean that everything is fine in the United States of America, or that the U.S. Constitution thrones over and directs the political game. The fact of the matter is that there is a dangerous imbalance in the relationship between and within each of the government's executive branch, legislative branch and media "branch." One of the reasons for such imbalance is tied to the corruption that accompanies the political game and to the influence of lobbies on elections and on decision-making. The other reason is what distinguished commentator Thomas Friedman called "vetocracy," quoting the author of the book The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama, in an article titled "Down With Everything." The crisis of authority in the United States and its deformed political system "with a Congress that's become a forum for legalized bribery" is certainly a dangerous one, especially for the future of the United States' superpower status on the international scene. The electoral process, in itself, restrains the country and nearly contributes to turning it from a democracy to a vetocracy. Yet in spite of this, merely pausing for a moment to think of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney inevitably reminds one that such a scene would have been impossible only a few years ago, and that the reality of the nearly certain candidacy of these two men to the highest power and office in the land bears testimony to the greatness of America.

The United States is reinventing itself. In one way or another, it is doing this by overcoming intolerance despite its prevalence in the popular base, and rising above the imbalance despite the fact that it characterizes most of the members of Congress. In the Arab region, where reinventing oneself is the prevailing process in several countries through which the winds of change have blown, fear stems from the absence of security valve traditions, such as a constitution, and from the majority, especially a majority issued from Islamist political parties, starting to consider "vetocracy" to be a right it has been blessed with by the democratic process. Fear stems from the notion of veto becoming a policy in and of itself in several Arab countries where obstruction has become a reality that is paralyzing the country. Even at the U.N. Security Council, major powers such as Russia and China have taken to vetocracy as a means to prevent democracy from taking its course on the Arab scene, perhaps out of fear of it infiltrating their home countries.

The presidential elections in Egypt are an important milestone for Egyptians and for the future of the Egyptian leadership in the Arab region. Egypt is reinventing itself. It is struggling and in danger of slipping into chaos, at times, and is going through a sorting out process that is strikingly organized and a wakeup call for those who might imagine that they have seized power, at others. It might anger the secularists and Islamists who oppose the Military Council if one were to say that the Military Council is necessary today to ensure keeping politics under control and keeping in check the "vetoist" tendency of most Islamist political parties -- in the sense of denying the rights of others simply by defining Egypt as Islamist and imposing on others an identity they have not chosen. Certainly, the Military Council must not rule Egypt, and of course, power must be handed over to an elected president. Yet this does not negate the renewed or new role played by the Military Council, in the form it has taken after the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak. Indeed, the regime in Egypt did not fall entirely, as it is in fact the Military Council that is managing the transitional political process in Egypt. And that is alright, as long as there is a mechanism to monitor it, a popular or an international one, so that it may not occur to it to think itself qualified to become an alternative to pluralistic democratic rule.


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