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May 2, 2005

Perspective On Democracy: Arab society will be democracy's crucible

Topics: Middle East News and Perspectives

We're all anxious to learn whether or not democracy is going to catch-on in the midst of the turmoil we see occuring in Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere, yet, as Rami Khouri points out, a look behind us provides a perspective of how democracy in America rose out of the chaos of deals and tactics in the ward and street politics of Boston and Chicago a century ago.

- Rami G. Khouri in The Daily Star(Lebanon)
Right about now, those people who wish to see if democracy will take root and spread throughout the Arab world should be shifting their gaze from the lofty declarations of politicians in Arab and Western capitals to the more ordinary, less glamorous activities of democratic activists at the local level. The testing ground for Arab democracy will be the nitty-gritty of local politics, painstaking organizational work, mobilizing constituencies and communities, and fostering neighborhood-level citizen participation and accountability.

Such democratic aspirations mirror the ward and street politics of Boston and Chicago a century ago, when strongmen made deals and used muscle to enforce them, formal laws were bent and rewritten to suit the power balances of tribal and religious leaders, families and ethnic sects dominated local politics for generations, passing on incumbency to their sons and brothers like a royal title, always making sure that the local judges and police were happy, and on your side.

Chicago and Boston of a century ago in many ways mirror the power dynamics of Beirut, Damascus, Cairo, Tripoli, Amman, Sanaa, Khartoum and Tunis today. This is no surprise, for most autocratic societies in the earliest stages of transition toward democracy show hybrid notions of the rule of law combined with the rule of the jungle and the gun.

The Arab world today is at a juncture in its modern political development, and it could move in any of several directions. The preferred option for most Arab ruling regimes is to make some economic and superficial political changes that do not touch the core concentration of political power in the hands of the traditional ruling elite. Cosmetic changes to governance systems - allowing elections, private newspapers, and political parties, for example - effectively maintain all important political decision-making in the hands of a small, unaccountable political and security elite. Many local citizens and foreign governments alike are frustrated with this traditional strategy of slow motion, part-time, unconvincing, unserious Arab reform.

Continue reading at The Daily Star ...

Posted by Hyscience at May 2, 2005 11:26 AM

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