Random Musings on Arabs and Democracy
It is quite hard to find anything original to say about Egypt. I don't think any of us expected this, and I don't know an Arab of any persuasion who hasn't found all that has transpired anything but remarkable and deeply, deeply inspiring. I've been writing for some time on this blog, and in my scholarship, about the extraordinarily deep roots that democracy has developed on Arab soil among its populations, such that Islamists adopt democracy more than merely as instrument but as active normative commitment.
Noah Feldman deserves credit for raising it before me, before I was even in the academy, though it remained ignored, hence the dismissal of the massive demonstrations that took place in Iraq in 2003 to have a Constitution drafted by a body elected by Iraqis. It was regarded not really as democratic commitment--these folks were Arab Muslims who ever heard of an Arab Muslim democrat the theory seemed to be--it was decided to be slavish obeisiance to Sistani who made the call (of course he asked the Shi'a not to create a sectarian war when the Samarra bombing occurred, they didn't listen so slavishly then), or it was about "dignity" whatever that means. Years later the Islamists are running primaries in Iraq as I've mentioned on this blog, and still, somehow, it's just a trick. I'm told they don't care about democracy, they just want votes to take over. I'm not disputing that Sadrists run primaries as an instrument to get votes, that's what parties do, get votes. I am asking people to think for one second about what that means about Iraqis, when increasing commitment to democracy by a party, to people's selection of party reps for office over party boss selection (the latter of which is obviously preferred by any party boss), means they get more votes. It means the people want to vote, clearly.
And here now it's Egypt. And now, I think the idea that Arabs and Muslims more broadly have accommodated themselves to democratic politics is finally starting to seep. Just delighted that finally, despite concerns about Iranian takeover, we do have a broader zeitgeist in which the idea that Arabs are not inherently hostile to democracy is now part of a broader conversation, expanded beyond the margins where it once lay.
And delighted to see Mubarak go, I was for a bit quite furious with the notion reportedly originally planned by the US to see him transfer power but remain president symbolically until his term ends in September. I'm sorry, I'm usually in Obama's camp, but what? I think you're missing the right symbol, the symbol is not supposed to be giving your thieving, stealing, killing dictator thug his dignified exit. For what, the stability that brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets and paralyzed an army? May I ask if that's "stability" what's so unstable about Iraq? No thugs to beat up protestors there, and not nearly that many demonstrators. Government much more stable than Mubarak, heck it left town for nine months and the system held together.
No the symbol shouldn't be about helping Mubarak. The symbol is the people of the nation throwing him out on his ass, repudiating the ossification that he and his ilk represent, bringing forth a new Arab world. Ironic it had to be done without American support, just as it was ironic that it had to be a Najaf cleric who forced an American appointed envoy that Iraqis were ready for democracy, but however it happened, it happened. Two major centres of civilization in the Arab world, now on the road to democratic rule, in a manner that not a soul could have predicted a decade ago.
Now it's Lebanon, Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt. The tide is turning, the times they are changing. It'll take decades, it might fail, but anyone who doesn't see hope now is truly living in the past. Specifically, 1979.