Opinion

The Great Debate

from David Rohde:

Trust Tunisia

As the first elections of the post-Arab spring unfold over the next several weeks, you will be hearing the term “moderate Islamist” over and over again. Early results from elections in Tunisia suggest that the moderate Islamist Ennahda party is going to win the largest number of seats in a new assembly that will rewrite the constitution, choose a new interim government and set dates for parliamentary and presidential elections. Members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood who have also been described as moderate Islamists are expected to fare well in similar elections there in November. And Islamists play a growing role in Libya’s transitional council as well.

The Islamist parties insist that they have renounced violence, fully embrace democracy and will abide by the electoral process. Secular Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans, as well as some western pundits, warn that the Islamist parties are a Trojan Horse. Once Islamists take power, they will refuse to relinquish it and forcibly implement conservative Islam in all three countries.

What is striking is the silence emanating from Washington and other western capitals.

“One of the shifts that hasn’t been talked about is how much more the West is willing to accept the reality of a political landscape in places like Tunisia and Egypt that will include the existence of Islamist groups,” said Dalia Mogahed, the director of the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, which polls public opinion across the Middle East. “The West has realized that it isn’t up to us to decide whether they can run.”

The term Islamist usually sets off alarm bells in Washington. Islamists have long been jailed by pro-American dictators, brutally silenced and believed to inexorably promote militancy. In the wake of the Arab Spring, though, they are delving into electoral politics to an extent never seen before in the modern Middle East.

Libya’s revolution pushes democracy forward

By Michael Ignatieff
The views expressed are his own.

We like to think we made it happen. First in Kosovo, now in Libya, we believe our air power made it happen. Western politicians are taking the credit, but the truth is, we didn’t make it happen, any more than we made the Arab Spring happen and the air operation itself would never have been approved at the UN without the green light from the Arab League. The people of Libya, the peoples of the Middle East made it happen. We all need to understand how little of this is about us. Otherwise we risk succumbing to the illusion that we can shape the future in the Middle East.

The power we exercised in the sky gives us little control over what happens next. This is not just because we don’t have boots on the ground. Even when we did in the Balkans, we never controlled the way events rolled out after the air campaign was over. The people of the Balkans wrote their own history after the intervention and the people of the Middle East will do the same.

We called Libya a civil war and intervened to help one side win, as we did in Kosovo. But Libya was not a civil war. The dictator didn’t have deep enough support to turn it into one. It was a revolution, a people against a regime, rising up without any instigation from us, with nothing but rage, humiliation and hope to guide them. We gave them air cover and they made a revolution.

Where does Libya go from here?

By Daniel Serwer
The opinions expressed are his own.

With the press focused on scenes of joy in Tripoli and Benghazi, continued skirmishes with regime loyalists, and speculation about where Gaddafi might turn up, it is time to lift our sights and focus on the really difficult transition ahead. If another autocrat succeeds Gaddafi, the transition could be over soon. But if Libya embarks on an effort to create a more democratic state, unified and inclusive in many dimensions, we’ll need to wait the better part of a decade to know whether it has succeeded or not.

There are no magic formulas for how to go about this. Each contingency has its own requirements. We have seen many more partial failures than full successes: think Iraq and Afghanistan.

Certainly in Libya security will be job one. The immediate goal is public order, so that people can move freely without fear of large-scale violence. But there was public order of a non-democratic sort in Gaddafi’s Libya. What the rebels have done in areas liberated in recent months is as clever as it is remarkable: they have organized local councils to try to ensure security and other immediate requirements. This does not always happen in civil wars but it suggests a way forward. There were at least four councils in Tripoli before Gaddafi fell. Can they step in to organize local communities to protect themselves from the inevitable aftershocks of Gaddafi’s fall?

Why democracy will win

LIBYA/

Philip N. Howard, an associate professor at the University of Washington, is the author of “The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy:  Information Technology and Political Islam”. The opinions expressed are his own.

The Day of Rage in Saudi Arabia was a tepid affair, and Libyan rebels have suffered strategic losses. Only two months ago, popular uprisings in Tunisia inspired Egyptians and others to take to the streets to demand political reform. Will the tough responses from Gadaffi and the Saudi government now discourage Arab conversations about democratic possibilities? It may seem like the dictators are ahead, but it’s only a temporary lead.

Ben Ali ruled Tunisia for 20 years, Mubarak reigned in Egypt for 30 years, and Gadaffi has held Libya in a tight grip for 40 years. Yet their bravest challengers are 20- and 30-year-olds without ideological baggage, violent intentions or clear leaders. The groups that initiated and sustained protests have few meaningful experiences with public deliberation or voting, and little experience with successful protesting. These young activists are politically disciplined, pragmatic and collaborative. Where do young people who grow up in entrenched authoritarian regimes get political aspirations? How do they learn about political life in countries where faith and freedom coexist?

from The Great Debate UK:

There’s more to deliberative democracy than deliberative polling

Parkinson

- John Parkinson is Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of York, specialising in democratic theory and comparative democratic institutions. In a previous life he was a facilitator, internal communications and public relations consultant. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Last weekend 200 randomly-selected citizens got together in London for a “deliberative poll” to sort through ideas for transforming British democracy. Judging by the organizers’ blog – at www.power2010.org.uk – the participants were blown away by the experience, as ordinary people always are when they take part in serious discussion on big political questions. It’s brilliant stuff to be part of, and there should be more like it, I think.

However, there is more – much more – to “deliberative democracy” than deliberative polling.

from Global News Journal:

Cheers for Africa’s new military ruler. For now.

Fifteen years ago this month, Guinea’s late ruler Lansana Conte made clear what form democracy would take under his rule.

We answered a summons to a late night news conference to hear the result of his first multiparty election, speeding through silent streets where armoured vehicles waited in the shadows. The interior minister announced that ballots from the east, the opposition’s stronghold, had been cancelled because of irregularities. Conte had therefore won 50.93 percent of the vote. There was no need for a run-off because he had an absolute majority.

The show was over.

We rushed off to file our stories at the press centre, set up helpfully by a government under pressure to show the world it was ready for fair elections. The press centre was gone, the lines cut. In the morning, fighter jets swept over Conakry in case the message had not been clear already.

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