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Dinner, Democracy With Hamas

The Guardian has a story about one of their reporters going "Inside Hamas" and eating a Ramadan meal with two senior Hamas leaders. The fact that these leaders remain unnamed during the report, suggests they are probably high level. The … Read More

By / October 25, 2007

The Guardian has a story about one of their reporters going "Inside Hamas" and eating a Ramadan meal with two senior Hamas leaders. The fact that these leaders remain unnamed during the report, suggests they are probably high level.

The entire discussion is interesting, especially the part about Hamas' familiarity with magazines like the New Yorker and ideas like Post-Zionism.

However, the part that interested me the most is the following, with emphasis:

This group of men, then part of a community of Palestinian intellectuals working and studying in Cairo, grew more and more convinced by the Muslim Brotherhood's dream of a Middle East governed by Islam, and the abolition of the colonial boundaries imposed by the Sykes-Picot agreement by which the Ottoman empire was divided up among the French and British after the first world war. "We were the first of the new generation of Islamists," he said. "We believed that Islamic revolution in a neighbouring country would come and a new Islamic state would help us liberate Palestine." He welcomed democracy. "If real democracy was applied tomorrow, the whole region would be governed by Islamists," he said.

This double move by the Muslim "right" 1) aspirations for Islamic rule and 2) achieved democratically, is, more than anything else, the central question of 21st century Islamic politics.

It is central, because it is one that most directly confronts everything the West stands for.

On one hand, we support individual autonomy and the citizen's right to freely and fairly elect his government.

On the other hand we oppose Islamic fundamentalism and theocratic regimes, which do not affirm international human rights.

How we navigate this contradiction — which, with a hat tip to Zakaria one can call the Paradox of Illiberal Democracy — is going to be the most difficult, if not intractable question for Western political leaders to answer.

You should stop and ask yourself, where you stand on this.

One Presidential apsirant has made his answer pretty clear: our friend Benito Giuliani.

In a recent NYT piece, a close look at his foreign policy team, and their positions, is provided. This here is the part that is relevant to the issue of Islamism and the Muslim right:

But Mr. Giuliani has distanced himself somewhat from what was once a central neoconservative tenet, the belief that the United States could spread democracy through the Middle East.

Mr. Giuliani rejects the democracy effort as premature, and overly idealistic, noting that the policy led to the sweeping victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections.

“Elections are necessary but not sufficient to establish genuine democracy,” Mr. Giuliani wrote in an article in Foreign Affairs, the policy journal. “Aspiring dictators sometimes win elections, and elected leaders sometimes govern badly and threaten their neighbors.”

In other words, by citing to Hamas, some Western leaders — at least Giuliani — have basically thrown democracy to the way side. He is a realist. He couldn't care less about other people's autonomy. He wants to defend our allies.

However, this doesn't mean that democracy promotion should be completely thrown aside. Instead, of the urgent democratic push that President Bush made in Iraq, it might be possible to support democracy in a gradual fashion. Daniel Pipes, who is on Giuliani's team sets forth the idea:

MEQ: Is the U.S. government pushing the governments of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia too quickly towards democracy?

Pipes: The Saudi model, where democratization begins at a low level, with municipal councils, is a good one. It gives the Saudis ample time to get to learn the ways of democracy and to build the institutions of civil society. Begin with voting for dogcatcher, not for prime minister.

As to what the Saudi model of reform looks like, this is something worth checking out.

In any event, I am curious what people think: do people have a right to democracy — complete and unfettered — as soon as possible, or only when we are ready to allow it?

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