Democracy Takes Time, Even in the Middle East

June 27, 2012 3:12 pm 7 comments

Three fingers dyed pink after voting in the Egyptian constitutional referendum in 2011. Photo: wiki commons.

Last week’s Wall Street Journal ran a sobering piece by Bret Stephens about the disappointing results of democratic elections in Egypt the previous weekend. It’s true that democracy’s defenders have lately been mugged by reality.

On the other hand, Stephens gives a nod toward the end of the piece to the long view: “The good news is that Egyptians may have a wider conception of freedom in 30 years or so, about the same amount of time it took Khomeinism to lose the masses in Iran. In 30 years, too, the Greeks may have a better appreciation of the notion of responsibility, both personal and political.”

At its heart, democracy is a system that requires optimism and faith in the ability of the masses of human beings to aspire and be responsible. To dismiss its superiority over that of, say, dictatorship, is to side with the lower elements of human nature over the higher ones.

Call me an idealist, but I believe in the big picture, to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was quoting abolitionist Theodore Parker), “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.”

The moral advancement of the human race seems to move at a snail’s pace, with many glaring and dramatic setbacks. And yet, on the macro level, surely we have advanced from the days of commonplace child sacrifice and slavery and the days when women were universally regarded as lower in status and value than men, for instance.

To continue with an elaboration on Dr. King’s quotation by President Barack Obama (delivered in a speech in 2008): “It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice….”

I think this insight can be applied to the global struggle toward democracy. For as policy-makers have learned, democracy building demands a great deal from the residents of any democracy itself. No matter how others are willing to sacrifice for a faraway people, those people themselves must take up democracy’s mantle with all the sacrifice, day-to-day work, education, and civic participation such a society requires. Democracies – whether in Egypt, in Greece, in Iraq, or here in the U.S. – will only be as healthy, vibrant, strong, and genuinely representative as the people who build and sustain them.

That said, we should be careful lest we jump from one erroneous conclusion (that democracies can be built quickly and ushered in primarily by outside forces) to another (that democracy is purely the province of the West and there is no hope for this system of government in any other part of the world, that no one in any place other than the U.S. or Europe wants, can handle, or will sacrifice for any kind of democracy).

As the shrewd Stephens is wise to note near the end of his piece, no one knows the future, and to conclude that the tumultuous events unfolding in places like Egypt and Greece presage the demise of democracy would be short-sighted. To that caveat I would add that I personally know numerous individuals within the Arab world who have taken huge risks and made harrowing sacrifices to try and build democracy in their countries. And let’s not forget that, whatever one’s views about the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and America’s Iraq policy, millions of Iraqi citizens risked their lives to vote in elections and put their lives on the line to join Iraq’s security forces. Reports of horrendous violence in present-day Iraq as well as of election fraud and corruption in Iraq’s present government should, while informing us about the tragic and deeply flawed situation that exists in the aftermath of the U.S. liberation, not cause us to forget that many people of great goodwill, courage, and idealism – both American and Iraqi – made enormous sacrifices to bring democracy to the region.

To the extent the results have been uneven or worse, it is not the fault of those who sacrificed. And it is not necessarily proof that democracy cannot exist and flourish in the region. It may just be an indicator that U.S. policymakers gravely underestimated the challenges – such as highly effective sabotage from many terrorist forces in the region, including the Iranian regime. And it also may suggest that any democracy not fueled and sparked primarily from within will likely face challenges even greater than those birth pains that seem to accompany any nation’s emergence.

To jump from the realization that the U.S. should carefully consider its role – and its stomach for real, long term commitment – before militarily intervening to promote democracy to the conclusion that the U.S. has no role whatsoever to play as a leader in promoting democracy or human rights around the world (including in supporting people within pre-democratic societies who are working to improve them) would only compound the tragic aspects of the Iraq policy.

For in so doing, we will be siding with those who would seize power – and subvert democracy – and against those who would make sacrifices and dedicate themselves to building a better, freer future for their children.

7 Comments

  • Congratulations on a well thought out analysis with a moral foundation. This is one of the most difficult problems facing the world today and you provide some excellent guide posts, especially patience, for us all.

  • what a wonderful view of circustances which can easily be seen as totally negative.But, no you have been able to sort through the quagmire and draw realist positive conclusions which we can all do well to keep in focus.

  • The world is going abroad, saying broad is the way, having a broad view (Matthew 7:13). Art is Esau worldly, the Lord tell us who is sent by him Satan (Jeremiah 14:14). Who wants to be even with Jesus Christ, his equal? (Ezekiel 33:20) *Luke 19:32 And they that were sent went their way and found even as he had said unto them. (Mark 11:4)

  • Martin Luther King Jr stated in March 1968: “If you are antiZionist then you are antisemetic”….Trying shouting that in Tahir Square and living more than a few seconds… I don’t think so…Democracy? Are you kissing? This is Germany in January 1933…and we all know how that story ends….

  • Marylin Pitz

    A thoughtful and well-stated analysis of a difficult set of circumstances. I agree that the yearning for freedom is basic, human and thus universal. Culture plays a role in attitude formation, as well. People prioritize, and values are learned. We must hope that the introduction to the idea of freedom is heady enough to be absorbed.
    Thank you for the very fine article.

  • Marylin Pitz

    A thoughtful and well-stated analysis of a difficult set of circumstances. I agree that the yearning for freedom is basic, human and thus universal. Culture plays a role in attitude formation, as well. People prioritize, and values are learned. We must hope that the introduction to the idea of freedom is heady enough to be absorbed.
    Thank you for the very fine article.

  • Marylin Pitz

    A thoughtful and well-stated analysis of a difficult set of circumstances. I agree that the yearning for freedom is basic, human and thus universal. Culture plays a role in attitude formation, as well. People prioritize, and values are learned. We must hope that the introduction to the idea of freedom is heady enough to be absorbed.
    Thank you for the very fine article.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Blogs 10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging. Since the Jewish State began defending itself from the thousands of rockets that Hamas has hurled at it – as well as ongoing terror attacks and murders, the overwhelming number of Tinseltown’s producers, directors, actors, and studio moguls have remained indifferent to the plight of millions of Israeli [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Sports So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi (63kg), 25, of Netanya, on Thursday lost the final round at the Judo World Cup, and her world title to Clarisse Agbegnenou of France, at a match held in Russia. “I have mixed feelings,” Gerbi told Israeli Army radio. But, “I shouldn’t assume that I’d win the world Judo championship twice in a row,” she admitted. Gerbi won gold in Rio De Janeiro last year. “When I made my decision, I knew it was going to [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    “Jews Out!” was just the name of a child’s game that three little girls played in World War II Europe. But all is not as it seems because the three girls were Jewish, but hiding their true identities. In award-winning author R. D. Rosen’s riveting non-fiction work, Such Good Girls, “Jews Out!” wasn’t a game; it was a struggle for survival. The girls, Sophie, Flora, and Carla, grew up at a time and a place that did not allow them [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    JNS.org – “He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” wrote Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994, following the Oct. 20 passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Twenty years later, more robust accounts of Carlebach’s life have come to the surface. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy. This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s The Soul of Jerusalem hit the shelves. But even the authors will admit [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    As Hamas loses its grip on power in the Gaza Strip as a result of war, poverty and disillusionment, the Islamist terrorist group has developed an ingenious way to raise the moral of the 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs it was elected to serve. While currently focused on delivering a rocket into every Israeli home, Hamas has not left its own people behind. To gently wipe away the tears of children strategically placed inside kindergartens as human shields, the Hamas Interior Ministry has [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Recycling His Roots

    Recycling His Roots

    JNS.org – Having started his career playing on his family’s pots and pans, Jewish musician Billy Jonas has maintained this homemade performance ethic while spreading his messages of simple living and environmentalism to a shared home throughout the world. After beginning in the kitchen, Jonas soon moved to the music room, where he picked up the piano, guitar, and trombone. These days, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist plays on with pretty much anything he can find, including cans, bottles buckets, and other recycled-object [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    JNS.org – Sara Davidson’s The December Project is a new book that should be read by all senior citizens, and by those who hope to live a long life, for it raises a question that most of us have not been taught how to answer: What should we do in that final stage of our lives? Many of us continue working past the traditional retirement age of 65, not because we need the money and not because we find the [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.