From Hosni Mubarak’s opening up Egyptian elections for the first time, to Syria’s strong efforts to accommodate American demands for withdrawal from Lebanon and for cooperation in Iraq, the Middle East is changing in ways unforeseen even last fall. During the campaign, neither candidate discussed pressuring these two putative allies to create a stable and democratic Arab presence, yet today both are taking the first steps toward representative government. Lebanon’s Druze Patriarch Walid Jumblatt pinpointed the genesis of this metamorphosis in the pages of The Washington Post:
It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.
In other words, a sea-change is taking place in the Arab world: democracy is becoming reality for the first time in history – and all this progress came about because of the determination of President George W. Bush and over the most vicious objections of the American Left.
The most recent dividends of the Bush Doctrine became evident on Saturday, when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak demanded the 1971 (socialist) constitution be amended to allow multiparty elections for the first time. In a nationally televised speech delivered at the University of Menoufiya, Mubarak said, “The president will be elected through direct, secret balloting, opening the opportunity for political parties to run in the presidential elections and providing guarantees that allow more than one candidate for the people to choose from with their own will.” Upon hearing this, the crowd burst out into a chant of, “Long live Mubarak, mentor of freedom and democracy!”
Just a month ago, President Mubarak intended to hold his fifth national plebiscite and labeled such reforms “futile.” (The 76-year-old, who has ruled Egypt since 1981, won the previous four elections with more than 90 percent of the vote.) However, President Bush has been unwavering on the issue, saying in his State of the Union Address, “The great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.” This emboldened rallies in Egypt to criticize Mubarak and his son (and heretofore heir apparent), Gamal. Condoleeza Rice boldly cancelled her scheduled visit after Mubarak jailed political opponent Ayman Nour. The next day, Mubarak made a 180-degree policy shift.
Though they view his actions as only an opening salvo, Mubarak’s political opponents have embraced this constitutional reform as a turning point in their nation’s history. Nour called it “an important and courageous move.” Hisham Kassem of the Tomorrow Party and editor of the Masr al-Youm newspaper deemed the amendment “the most important thing he has done in 24 years in power.” National Progressive Unionist Party member Refat Said stated, “Mubarak has taken one boulder from the road to democracy. It's at least a change in mentality.” Rifaat el-Said of the Tagammu Party proved more ebullient: “We have moved a mountain,” he said. Even ruling party member Mohammed Kamal admitted, “This is a change in the whole system.”
Thankfully, Mubarak’s amendment will bar the fascist Muslim Brotherhood from standing for election.
The winds of democracy are blowing in Syria, as well. President Bush singled out Syria in his State of the Union Address as a state sponsor of terrorism, and recalled the American ambassador to Syria after the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Massive protests calling for Syrian withdrawal ensued. At one such rally in the village of Qana, peasants destroyed a statue of the late President Hafez al-Assad, and just yesterday Lebanese protestors defied a government ban to demand an end to Syrian occupation.
Rejecting Syrian backlash, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state David Satterfield echoed President Bush’s pro-freedom rhetoric. “It is not...interference for the world to talk of the need for Lebanese to live in freedom,” he said over the weekend.
Out of pressure from President Bush – and still feeling the impact of neighboring Iraq’s elections – Syria has claimed it will either withdraw troops from Lebanon or bring them into conformity with the ceasefire plan it adopted in 1989 but never enacted. Over the weekend, the Mideast’s other Ba’athist nation also turned over Saddam Hussein’s half-brother, a sought-after Iraqi “insurgent” leader, in order to curry favor with Washington. A confidence vote will be held today on the government of Prime Minister Omar Karami. This could be the beginning of the end of Syria’s brutal 30-year occupation of Lebanon.
As these historic events unfold, or rather are instigated by the Bush administration, the Left sits on the sidelines cheering for the wrong team. Ted Kennedy bitterly condemned American “occupation” on the eve of the Iraq elections. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid promptly seconded Kennedy’s call for Bush to publish an Iraqi exit strategy. Meanwhile, Jesse Jackson stumped for democracy…in Ohio, telling black audiences their votes had been discarded by Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, the only black man to hold statewide office (and a strong candidate to become Ohio’s next governor).
After the world viewed the ocean of ink-stained fingers waving over Saddam’s former fiefdom, Sen. John Kerry said we should not to “overhype” the event. The man who nearly became president told Tim Russert that the elections that heralded a new era in Arab politics only possessed “a kind of legitimacy – I mean, it's hard to say that something is legitimate when a whole portion of the country can’t vote and doesn’t vote.”
Indeed, one could easily construct a depressing alternate history of the past month by juxtaposing President Bush’s strong leadership with Sen. John Kerry’s world tour. Kerry took a 13-day tour of the Arab world in early January, meeting with officials in Syria, Egypt, and other nations of the Arab crescent. Rather than pressure Syrian President Bashar Assad to democratize or end its occupation of Lebanon as the Bush administration has, Kerry simply hoped to “improve our relationship” with Assad. (And guess who would have made the concessions?) “I think we found a great deal of areas of mutual interest, some common concerns and some possibilities for initiatives that could be taken in the future to strengthening the relationship between the U.S. and Syria,” Kerry babbled. He repeated the same “good relations” routine after meeting the Egyptian foreign minister. Kerry also demoralized the troops in Baghdad by castigating the “enormous miscalculations,” “horrendous judgments,” and “unbelievable blunders” of their commander in chief. Kerry proved his statesmanship by claiming black votes were being “suppressed” in the 2004 election immediately upon his return to the States.
Imagine Kerry standing in the Rose Garden thronged by Teddy and Jesse, and you begin to get a sense of what might have been – and what would never have been. They deemed the first election in the history of Afghanistan unworthy of notice and the Palestinian elections a non-event. The Iraqi election, they insisted, could never take place. Now as the ripple effects of their president’s policies move other nations closer to the currents of liberalization, they give to liberty no quarter. However reforms proceed in Egypt – and we pray they will usher in democratic, representative government respectful of the rights of all its citizens – none whatever would have taken place under the leadership of the Democratic Left. It makes any history buff weep to see the party of Jefferson and Jackson observe the next milestones in the history of human freedom in the making – and oppose them with all its misguided might.
Update: Since the time this story was filed early this morning, Lebanon's pro-Syrian government has resigned. This is the most hopeful sign yet that independence will soon return to the Land of Cedars. -- BJ