The Daily Star, 2 November 2004
We ought to take seriously the findings of a recent global opinion poll in 23 countries and consider joining the citizens of the world in electing the next American president. Making this proposition a reality should be very simple since it rests on a fundamental and democratic tenet: decisions taken by the resident of the White House affect the destiny of countries, peoples and individuals all over the world. In other words, the latter is the president of the world and it is only right for those who are at the receiving end of any authority’s decisions to express their opinion and participate in its election.
We might remember how President George W. Bush attacked John Kerry claiming that he wanted to consult France when making decisions; sure, and why not? This should be so at least for those decisions that largely affect France. Europeans, and among them the French, would probably prefer Kerry because he, unlike Bush, is liable to consult them when making decisions that affect their country’s interests.
However, those that are most affected by George Bush’s decisions are the unfortunate citizens of the Middle East. This therefore gives us the right to take part in the American elections, unless they stop interfering in our private affairs. This does not alter the fact that we do not elect other powers whose decisions impact our destiny more than the U.S. does, namely Middle Eastern regimes, including the only “democracy” among them. Arab regimes are not democratic however, and Israel does not consult with non-Jews when it decides to kill Palestinians and occupy Arab land.
The call for Middle Easterners to participate (let’s forget the French) in the American elections might seem impractical, and it is indeed so, for we know full well that a call for the expansion of the American electoral base is impossible at this time given the actual framework of nation states and the existing global situation. We also know, however, that these very frameworks are causing the gradual disintegration of democracy within the democratic countries themselves and the disintegration of their international policies. We are also witnessing the stumbling of the democratic reform processes in many countries around the world, especially in the Middle East. The world is becoming more inter-connected and complex while obstacles remain unchanged.
Therefore, the nation state is no longer the only suitable locus for democracy. For if the situation continues as is, the contradictions resulting from the application of democratic principles in sovereign states will increase, leading us to a new colonial era where calls for democracy from around the world would remain largely unanswered. This new colonial wave already has its own ideology: the clash of civilizations, militarism and Bushism.
The only alternative is a new global democratic framework – a process that would not replace the existing one but run parallel to it, provided there would be, in due course, a redistribution of power and a process to reconcile between the two framworks. The desired result would be akin in principle to the relationship between the European Parliament and local parliaments in individual countries.
To dismiss such an alternative would negatively impact the democratic process in the old and established democracies themselves. A good example would be the way the American governing elite has probably used Sept. 11 to stir up nationalistic sentiments and unify American society in a manner highly reminiscent of Baathists throughout the Arab world. Also reminiscent of the Baathists is the Americans’ way of accusing those that do not fall in line of treason, of adopting conservative economic and social policies, and of restricting civil liberties. In the meantime, they launched a worldwide strategy of military aggression that seems to have no end in sight and to which over 20,000 Iraqis who were not consulted have fallen victim. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the wrong decision to go to war, in spite of the fact that all the pretexts for launching it were proven to be baseless (weapons of mass destruction, and the Iraqi regime’s connection to Al-Qaeda and the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks), in addition to the obvious lies of Iraqi agents like Ahmed Chalabi. A Democracy that does not admit its mistakes and isolates its citizens from the decision-making process is in fact isolating itself from its own people and inviting the possibility of falling victim to the machinations of the mighty.
Thus, when the U.S. came up with the fabricated pretexts of spreading democracy and the need to remove the regime of Saddam Hussein to justify its invasion of Iraq, its regime was akin to that of Saddam Hussein and the farthest away from democratic principles since World War II. Furthermore, when William Kristol announced (contrary to most opinion polls) on Fox News the overwhelming victory of George Bush over John Kerry in the third and last debate, he was so very reminiscent of former Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf when he continued to proclaim victory against the Americans until the very morning Baghdad fell. He also seemed very reminiscent of the former Syrian information minister who saw victory for Syria in Resolution 1559, for in the newspeak of Arab Baathists and American neoconservatives there are no words for defeat, failure or stumbling, except when describing the enemy.
The decisions of Mr. Bush or Kerry will affect the future of my country as well as my own destiny as a member of the Syrian and Arab democratic opposition, and this will manifest itself most evidently in the next few months. I therefore see American policies as coming from the corner of power and hegemony rather than those of solidarity with the weak and in defense of the persecuted. I do not need to witness the daily killings of Palestinians to dismiss any illusions I might have concerning the American project in our region, for those who want to see justice in Iraq and Syria cannot at the same time lend support to a professional killer’s work in Palestine. That is why I see American policy in the “Middle East” (this terminology itself does not give due recognition to the peoples of this region) as being the other face of the Syrian ruling elite that does not recognize the right of the Syrian people to make up their own mind and decide on their own future. American policies in the area therefore are a mixture of dictatorship and cultural condescension, as was manifested in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal a few months ago.
It seems to me that to democratize the Middle East we need to liberate ourselves from not one but three authorities: autocratic power structures throughout the region; the authorities above the law, i.e. Israel; and the most overreaching authority of all, the United States of America. None of these authorities, as far as the “Middle East” is concerned, is genuinely democratic.
U.S. policies in the region always had a far greater impact on our destiny than the Americans ever dared to admit, and this impact is only second to that of the local ruling dictatorships that could always count on the support of the U.S. as long as they carried out their designs and fulfilled their every request. Today the latter wants to control us under the pretext of liberating us, and the former want to preserve their power under the pretext of standing steadfast in the face of external threats.
We shall, however, achieve our freedom only when we liberate ourselves from both, in other words, when we can complete the aborted national liberation process in this miserable “Middle East” through democratic transformation.