Only democracy can stop bloodshed
Democracy remains the most effective way to tackle terror, stop bloodshed and political violence in Arab countries
Democracy is passing through difficult times. In its latest edition, London-based weekly The Economist has dedicated several pages discussing the various dimensions of the crisis facing democracy. It established that there is a growing lack of confidence in democracy and suggested a number of steps to improve it so that people’s faith in it is restored and good governance is achieved.
Democracy remains the most effective way to tackle terror, stop bloodshed and political violence in Arab countries. When the West deals with the crisis of democracy, it does so by tracking voting trends that are backing a reckless politician like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Western countries are adept at finding the reasons behind low voter turnout in elections or to determine why people are unhappy with the parliament’s performance.
While western countries are examining what can be done to revive democracy and to grapple with transformation amid communication revolution, Arab countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen are in deep need of democracy to be able to survive and to stop bloodshed that has killed hundreds of thousands.
Arab citizens are losing faith in democracy even though it has been at the forefront of their demands. In Iraq, for example, demonstrators’ attack on Parliament clearly indicated the failure of democracy. It was followed by the chaos of demonstrations called by Iraqi cleric Muqtada al- Sadr, demanding political reform.
While western countries are examining what can be done to revive democracy and to grapple with transformation amid communication revolution, Arab countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen are in deep need of democracy to be able to surviveJamal Khashoggi
Unfortunately, the failure of democracy in Iraq will become an excuse for the opponents of democracy. An enthusiast for tyranny would claim that Arab countries cannot be ruled by democracy, while a so-called liberal will insist that people must be prepared and be educated about it. Such opponents of democracy have a strong case now which is the failure of the creation of a viable democratic regime in Iraq.
In fact, the opponents of democracy do not have any other alternative for these countries. They only want restoration of old Arab regimes which collapsed in 2011 after being in power for more than half a century.
They believe old regimes can restore security and stability as they compare the current situation with that of the one-man rules such as that of former Libyan leader Qaddafi or former Egyptian president Husni Mubarak. The use of hashtag “bring back Husni Mubarak” is an example. It clearly reflects the aspirations of some Egyptian people who once thought that breaking free from the cycle of misery, joblessness and tyranny of the regime can only be achieved by getting rid of the head of state.
The idea that only democracy can stop bloodshed should be spread while at the same time regional players should be convinced against the idea of restoring old regimes. Yemenis and Syrians want democracy and exchange of power but such sentences are only found in constitutions of Arab republics and have not been applicable on the ground.
Iraq’s new constitution is theoretically a model but has not delivered democracy or respect for the rule of law and human rights. Arab democracy project shall be sponsored by stable Arab countries even if they were not democratic. This must look like a contradiction but do we have a better alternative than this absurd tendency to advocate restoration of old Arab regimes?
One day bloodshed will eventually stop in Arab countries and we should be ready to enable the transformation process and promote stability. When the battle ends, we will find demolished towns and fragmented communities divided along religious, ethnic and regional lines. There won’t be a united national army but several militias and no tyrant who prevails by force. The solution would be to impose democracy under international umbrella, to prevent disagreements and to pave the way for the return of federal governments.
Let us take the Libyan example; all attempts to establish stability without democracy have not achieved results. After two years of violence that has almost ruined the country, a large section of the Libyan people is now convinced that democracy, based on consensus and participation, is the only solution under the umbrella of the United Nations.
This solution is needed for other Arab countries as well. They should be aware that supporting one party to impose its control over the rest of the country will lead to more failures in the future. Experience has shown that violence has prevented one party or the other from achieving a decisive victory.
Once the war is over, the greatest support that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries can provide to Yemen is not making it a member of the GCC, nor a Marshall plan or even billions worth of grant, but by helping it establish democratic mechanism regulating peaceful exchange of power and gathering different parties in a constituent assembly. The same should be implemented in Syria and Iraq. The details could vary but the essence of democracy remains the same.
Stabilizing democracy and driving people to believe in it is the only way forward for peace. After accomplishing this, we should work to develop and rebuild the nation. Stopping bloodshed should be the priority at the moment.
This article first appeared in Al Hayat on June 11, 2016.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi