The Devil You Know: Does The U.S. Really Want Democracy In The Muslim World?
For years, skeptics in the United States have doubted the existence of the so-called moderate Muslim. Just where are these middle class Arabs we keep hearing about who just want peace and democracy instead of holy war? Well, we’ve now heard these pro-democracy Muslims make some noise – Tunisian protestors ousted their dictator within a month of their ‘Jasmine Revolution’ and days later the governments of Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and Albania saw unprecedented numbers of demonstrators in the streets showing the world their discontent with the status quo.
So we now know that there are masses of Arab Muslims who are passionate about steering their nations towards democracy. However, it does not appear that they consider the United States to be a suitable partner on their path. In fact, it’s not clear that the opposition movements are interested in a secular or Western- style government at all.
If anything, the governments targeted by the pro-democracy movements across the Muslim world reek of corruption, decadence and totalitarian repression. These regimes have all enjoyed public American support, but none of the positive aspects of American-style democracy seem to have been included in their bilateral agreements with the United States. Freshly ousted Tunisian President Ben Ali enjoyed excellent economic and political relations with the United States, and provided a business-friendly environment to foreign investors; at the same time Tunisia’s citizens lived under a ‘1984-style’ culture of spying and fear, while Ben Ali’s family was extorting and embezzling billions of Tunisia’s riches. Algeria’s relations with the United States have improved steadily while the nation’s corruption score is 2.9 out of 10; Algeria’s horrendous human rights record is rife with reports of torture and execution by security forces and government backed militias. The United States also cultivates highly cooperative relationships with Egypt, Jordan and even Yemen in the past few years, as the governments of these nations find their positions at risk in the rise of Islamic fundamentalist violence.
The problem is that the governments of these nations are largely illegitimate themselves. Jordan is ruled by a monarchy fraught with corruption and abuse of public office, while the nation itself remains cash-strapped and aid-dependent. Hosni Mubarak and his family are hugely unpopular and widely viewed as nepotists and thieves. But they have been important and compliant, if not exemplary, allies to the United States in economic, political and military matters.
This friendship with America may end up being the nail in the coffin for these regimes. Demonstrators are protesting what they see as American imperialism as much as they are protesting the leadership itself. So while the Obama administration carefully words its message of support for the pro-democracy movement in the Arab world, politicians and citizens alike have to wonder whether we would truly like to see legitimate, fairly elected democracies exist in Africa and the Middle East – because these democracies may look very different from what we had in mind for our friends in the Arab world. Socialist or Islamic, it’s likely they may not be friends much longer at all.
By Kathryne Gadarian, World News Editor