April 17, 2005


A New Power Rises Across Mideast: Advocates for Democracy Begin to Taste Success After Years of Fruitless Effort (Scott Wilson and Daniel Williams, April 17, 2005, Washington Post)

[A] cross the region, political reformers are benefiting from the unifying forces of technology and mass media. Digital channels outside the control of states are carrying anything from a Kuwaiti woman's call for voting rights in her country to a Lebanese Christian's demands to drive Syrian troops out from his. The foot soldiers are Islamic political activists in some cases, Bob Dylan disciples, communists or Arab secular nationalists in others. Many are united only in their common desire for fair elections, free speech and political rights.

In his second inaugural address, President Bush said that "it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture." But many democracy advocates in the region are skeptical of U.S. intentions here, and truly free elections in such countries as Egypt and Saudi Arabia could usher in parties sharply at odds with the United States. At the same time, Bush's message has offered a measure of comfort to street activists, who believe that crackdowns will be harder to carry out now that the United States is watching.

A powerful influence on the region has been televised imagery of Georgia's street uprising, called the Rose Revolution, which resulted in the ousting of a president after a flawed election. Then came Ukraine's potent Orange Revolution, which also followed elections seen as rigged. These mass movements have helped inspire political strategies playing out today on the streets in Beirut and Bahrain.

The Iraq experience, by contrast, has had a mixed effect. Some democracy activists in the region have been inspired by the recent elections but remain concerned by the continuing violence there. In Egypt, outrage over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and American policy toward the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians spurred some reformers to take to the streets to protest against President Hosni Mubarak, whom they view as a U.S. ally.

The Arab movements are, in many cases, increasingly tethered by the work of U.S.-funded democracy programs, international anti-corruption groups and Arab satellite television. Seminars funded by groups such as Transparency International and the philanthropist George Soros have brought together novice parliamentarians, activist journalists and human rights advocates from Morocco to the Persian Gulf region.

In almost every case, they have faced off against a powerful yet unpopular autocrat, making the lessons learned in one place applicable in another.

"What we have benefited from enormously is that all the leaders of the Middle East were educated from the same book," said Francis, 38, who did some of his professional training in San Francisco. "They are so predictable, and the antidote is common for all of them."

It's a favorite argument of the Realists that the situation in any given country is so unique that it isn't fertile ground for participatory government--and they're always wrong.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 17, 2005 10:12 AM
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