First Person | Democracy’s Devastating Dance

Elections are no antidote for terrorism

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

In his steel grey suit, white shirt, dark tie and silver-grey hair, Sobhe Saleh looked quite dapper as he joyously strode through the streets of Alexandria, sometimes breaking into a light run. Waving at his supporters, shaking hands and returning warm hugs he looked more like an average European or American politician celebrating his triumph over his opponent and not an Egyptian one, much less a member of the Egypt’s right-wing and for many years banned Muslim Brotherhood organisation. In the freest Egyptian parliamentary elections (in whatever space Hosni Mubarak’s government allowed the opposition candidates), held in December, Muslim Brotherhood won 76 seats. Though Saleh didn’t look anything like a terrorist, in his winning address which drew unrestrained applause from the audience, he raised the usual ‘Islam is the answer’ bogey, uniformly criticised the US and Israel and also the government of Egypt for adopting unIslamic ways.

Before his electoral victory, Saleh could have been dismissed as one of Osama bin Laden’s ilk. But now he is an elected politician, people voted for him because they supported what he stood for. It is a simple principal of democracy: you like someone, you elect him.

This is what the US wants to happen in West Asia. Democracy is George W. Bush’s flagship, he said so during his inauguration, he repeated it in his State of the Union address and members of his government harp on it at every opportunity. Remember, this was one of the reasons the US attacked Iraq, killing by its own admission over 30,000 civilian Iraqis; because Bush wanted to liberate them from the draconian rule of Saddam Hussein. The US decrees lack of freedom in West Asia, parts of Asia and even Russia. The US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in an article recently wrote that the principals of sovereignty will not be enough anymore, freedom of the people will be the cornerstone of US foreign policy, because lack of democracy creates the breeding ground for terrorists. Hence, in the US war on terror, promotion of democracy would be the weapon of choice.

Now the big issue: The December election in Egypt was the freest so far; freer than the Presidential elections held two months prior to that where the Muslim Brotherhood was not allowed to participate. Amidst allegations of rigging, violence and state-control, the US gently congratulated Hosni Mubarak, saying good, but not good enough. Then the results came and out of 444 seats in the lower house of parliament, Muslim Brotherhood got 76 seats, making it the main opposition party. Sure enough, the pro-American liberals and secularists are screaming that ‘Mullahs are Coming,’ and the US is wondering whether Muslim Brotherhood was better as an underground organisation.

In the new world order that the US wants to built, Bush and company envisions a democratic West Asia, from Egypt to Iran, including of course Saudi Arabia, which incidentally also took its first baby steps towards something resembling democracy. The only problem in this grand scheme is that the majority of the people in the region while not being terrorists are not pro-America either. And they do not like Israel, because the issue of millions of Palestinian refugees living in primitive conditions remain a festering wound for them. So the popularly-elected governments cannot afford to be amenable to American interests in the region. And if under American pressure or compulsions of geo-politics, they do not respect the wishes of their people, then in true democratic style, the governments would be thrown out. Every time Mubarak is chided for lack of freedom in his country, he tells the US that it is his reign (read absence of democracy) that is keeping the mullahs at bay. And he has a point. Unfortunately, by keeping mullahs at bay he may just be breeding terrorists.

It is interesting to point out here what happened in Algeria in 1992. In the first completely democratic elections, the radical Islamic party FIS was poised to win. Among other things, FIS wanted an Islamic Algeria. And that was a red rag. Tacitly supported by the western powers, including the US, the Algerian army took control of the country and declared the elections as void. The rest as they say is history. In the well-controlled elections, where all Islamic parties were forbidden to contest, the liberal FLN won in 2002, and the US tut-tutted the lack of transparency in the elections.

Ironically, the US wants to fight a malaise it chooses not to diagnose correctly and then proceeds with the wrong prescription. Democracy deficit in West Asia is not the reason al Qaeda and its ancillary units are terrorising the US and its allies. The CIA claims to have laid its hand on Mohammed Atta’s will. Since it has not yet made public that Atta crashed his plane in the World Trade Centre because he was unhappy as he could not vote in his country, it is safe to presume that lack of democracy in Egypt was not the motivating factor. If it was it would have been both easier and logical to hit Mubarak’s presidential palace then the WTC.

Democracy is an ideal that all nations should pursue. However, it is not an instant relief measure to combat terrorism. If anything, the US’ evangelical zeal in Iraq has created a new breeding ground for terrorists.


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