Democracies Dancing with the Devil

February 9, 2011 10:49 am 4 comments

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Photo: World Economic Forum.

The continuing chaos that has drawn all eyes to Egypt, has led many to pontificate the flaws of democracy. More specifically called into question, is the universal value of a democratic system. Perhaps, the argument goes, not all are ready or capable of making their own decisions, after all, Hitler was democratically elected, as was Hamas in Gaza. And, the argument continues, that if Egyptians are left to their own devices, who is to predict the ‘devil we don’t know ‘ that will arise.

This ongoing debate is of great interest and relevance to leaders and heads of state. But what is perhaps of greater interest to political observers, is what the Egypt scenario has brought to light in terms of the dealings of democracies and free nations, with autocrats, theocrats and dictators around the world.

Of course the governments of any country are responsible for the overall safety and security of their citizens, and at times it appears that this may necessitate an occasional ‘dance with the devil.’ It is rare that even long established democratically elected governments make altruistic decisions, and as such, it comes as no surprise that President Mubarak of Egypt has been propped up by the West for over 30 years. Now that power is shifting, and Mubarak has less to offer, Western powers are looking elsewhere for a broker that will facilitate their needs.

In the world of realpolitik, it is unlikely that this scenario will change in the near future. However there are certain lessons that need to be garnered from the Egypt situation, that have extreme relevance to the way democratic governments interact with dubious regimes around the world. Although to some it may seem elementary, one lesson that has relevance to Israel more than any other country is that there is no such thing a permanent agreement with an undemocratic government.

One of the simple reasons that this is the case is that an agreement between the governments of two elected democracies is an agreement between two peoples. A treaty with a figurehead or dictator or unelected leader is dependent on the whim of that individual or the ruling elite and thus can never be guaranteed. Additionally as we are seeing in Egypt, the ruling elite themselves are bound to be overthrown at some point or other and it is highly unlikely that the new leadership that takes control will want to preserve any remnants of their predecessors’ legislation and dealings.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently announced that ‘he expects any new Egyptian government to keep the peace treaty with Israel.’ He ‘expects,’ and what if that expectation is not carried through? Did Israel really pawn the Sinai and forever jeopardize the safety of its citizens in return for an ‘expectation’?

What makes matters worse for Israel is that it is constantly under pressure to formulate agreements of various kinds with Syria, the Palestinian Arab Authority and other Arab dictatorships or theocracies. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times naively went so far as to suggest that now is the best time to engage in treaty signing. What drivel! Arab figureheads do not represent their people and can’t be taken seriously in any long term treaty.

Additionally, for years Arab leaders have misled Western governments, declaring one position when in their company and a drastically different one to their own people. The flip side benefit is that in the rare event that true open democracy takes hold in the Arab world, the will of the people will be more transparent and Western leaders will have a much better idea of exactly what and who they are dealing with, as is the case with Hamas in Gaza.

This clear lesson from Egypt is very straightforward. While backhanded handling with imposed leadership structures throughout the world may be a sad necessity for democracies; comprehensive agreements with concrete commitments including the ceding of land is downright irresponsibly dangerous.

The Author is the director of the Algemeiner Journal and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at defune@gjcf.com .

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