The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Hamzawy: Democracy lost

That Amr Hamzawy -- he's so hot right now (you have watched Zoolander, haven't you?):

This widening ideological divide between ruling elites and oppositions will make it more difficult to adopt political reform measures, which require at least some consensus and flexibility on both sides. More troubling is that the positions of putatively democratic Arab opposition movements on the war in Lebanon have exposed their totalitarian and populist tendencies. There is a great difference between adopting a rational discourse that rightly condemns the Israeli military for its crimes against civilians and criticizes unconditional American acceptance of the war, and cheering the death of Israeli civilians as a step toward the destruction of the "Zionist entity." This goes beyond the tendency of Islamist and pan-Arab opposition movements to opportunistically capitalize on popular feelings to rally support. It shows that these movements lack a key characteristic of reformist political forces: a willingness to combat ideologies of hatred and extremism rather than using them for political advantage.

Furthermore, although they call for democratic reform in Arab countries, Islamist and pan-Arab movements have failed to acknowledge the fundamentally non-democratic nature of the actions of Lebanon's Hizbullah. By unilaterally making a decision of war and peace on July 12, Hizbullah confiscated the right of Lebanon's government, of which it is part, to determine the country's fate. Israel's response , by targeting infrastructure and the civilian population, was surely extreme, legitimizing resistance; however, Hizbullah acted like a state within a state, taking advantage of the weakness of Lebanon's formal institutions and transgressing the principle of consensual decision-making.

The regional shadows of the war in Lebanon will persist for many years. They may well be a long and painful reminder that the hope for any near-term democratic transformation of the Arab world was perhaps the greatest loser in a war that produced tremendous damage on all sides.
Harsh words indeed. While I agree with him that Hizbullah acted irresponsibly on 12 July, it's quite a stretch to say that it took a decision of war and peace. It was Israel that took the decision to escalate the conflict into a full-scale war. As for the opposition being opportunistic in capitalizing on the Hizbullah-Lebanon war for local advantage, I don't really see that as a problem (they're politicians, after all) as much as some of the delusions about this war. But there is a real concern in that the opposition does not realize that cheering for Hizbullah is a dead-end street: there is no real support in Egypt (and I suspect in all other Arab countries) for going to war against Israel. The need for a rational discourse about the region is indeed great, and it would have been nice to see less grandstanding from certain parts of the Nasserist left (which does indeed have totalitarian impulses). But it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg argument: can you have a quality democratic debate in the absence of democracy and when the only avenue open to dissidents is populism? Rational debate lost out on all sides here: in both the Arab world and in Israel (actually, particularly in Israel), jingoism triumphed.