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Pro-democracy protests vs protests of anger
By RAY HANANIA
The Jerusalem Post
20 Apr 2011
When I first expressed concern that the protesters in Egypt needed some support
to implement democracy, I was immediately pilloried by critics who said I was
What the protesters were doing was to demand freedom, they railed at me, as if
somehow questioning the events was immoral or, as Arabs say, haram [forbidden].
Well, what I wrote was that the people of the Arab world have no experience in
democracy. They have been raised in environments of repression, where free
speech is stifled and punished. And I asked, how can they achieve genuine
democracy on their own?
Middle East tyrants routinely and swiftly imprisoned, punished, or killed anyone
who criticized their governments. Criticism of a government is the fundamental
basis of the free speech provision of a true democracy. The crackdowns were so
frequent that it became routine and a rare thing to report.
The only free speech tolerated by Middle East dictatorships was to criticize the
West, the Christian world or Israel. Later, with the rise of more liberal
broadcast news outlets like Al-Jazeera, the media began criticizing other Arab
countries, but not the ones that host them.Satellite channels Al-Jazeera is
based in Qatar while Al-Arabiyya is based in Dubai, part-owned by a Saudi media
The protesters had no experience in democracy yet the world watched in awe with
great expectations, hoping it would miraculously evolve.
But how can we expect people who have no experience in democracy to implement
democracy? Can efforts at democracy even survive? Democracy has a higher chance
of failing in the Middle East than in any other region.
AMERICA HAS been trying to implement democracy in Iraq since it invaded the
country in March 2003, and it has failed. Iraq has a “government,” but it’s not
a democracy where the citizens define their leadership. The leaders in Iraq were
handpicked by the United States.
So how can anyone expect democracy to just suddenly appear in Egypt, even after
protests resulted in the removal of a dictator like President Husni Mubarak?
The Arabs live in a dream world controlled by the lowest common denominator of
peer pressure fanaticism. If you express support, for example, for peace based
on compromise with Israel, you are vilified and called “defeatist” by the
fanatics who are a minority voice in the Arab community but the loudest. The
majority voices, who are moderates, are not used to speaking their minds and
they remain silent.
Fanatics use democracy in the West to voice hatred and support radicalism in the
Middle East. That’s why the fanatics do a better job of PR than the moderates.
The result is the few voices of the extremists appear to be the majority, when
they are not, because in the Middle East, perception is reality.
In Egypt, the protesters toppled Mubarak, a tyrant who accumulated so much
wealth, the media reports, it is in the billions. But, did the protesters topple
the mindset caused by a lifetime of oppression and the denial of freedom? Will
Mubarak be replaced by the will of the people or just by a new, more cunning
Violence often becomes the primary means of responding to things that people do
not like in the Middle East. If you say something that the extremists do not
like, rather than conduct a debate in the local media, extremists simply
intimidate you into silence (as they often try unsuccessfully with me) or they
just try to kill you, as they did to Juliano Mer-Khamis, the actor whose Jewish
mother fought for Palestinian rights and whose Palestinian father taught him the
lessons of peaceful coexistence.
Now, of course, we are watching the post-Mubarak era transform from a tyranny.
But is it transforming to democracy?
Last week, the ruling military junta that has taken the reins of power in Egypt
have arrested an Egyptian blogger while the future of the real criminal dictator
Mubarak remains in question.Mubarak has been allowed to express his views
condemning his critics and vowing to take anyone who calls him corrupt to court.
What the people of Egypt lack is what they need. Not only must they topple a
dictator, but they also must be able to replace it with true democracy where
voices are allowed to speak freely on any topic. There needs to be a tolerance
for free speech.
Free speech in an environment of intolerance is not free speech at all. And, it
will not result in democracy.
I wish for real democracy in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.
The writer is an award-winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.
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