Are we truly serious about democracy in the Middle East?

The June split in Palestine and the subsequent hostile take over that occurred in the Gaza strip was a predictable and expected outcome if you were following recent events in the region. It seems as though efforts to sabotage the nascent alliance between Fatah and Hamas were rearing their ugly head right from the get go.
Insecurities between the two parties were voiced in the news and interference by international players was catalyzing the rivalry which culminated into the present situation. Was the Palestinian Unity Government ever a serious project? Did it have any hope of functioning efficiently? And is the international world truly serious about instilling democracies in the Middle East?
Currently governments as well as political analysts are talking about concentrating funding and peace-building efforts with President Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah party. But this isn’t a new development. Israeli and American efforts toward strengthening the Fatah faction were in place long before the most recent hostilities; and this makes one ponder as to whether international players were ever willing to include Hamas in their peace process?
It is no secret that the internal dispute that occurred between Fatah member and National Security Advisor, Mohammed Dahlan and Hamas Minister of Interior, Hani al Qawasami was due to the former overriding and undermining the authority of the latter over security issues. Despite the fact that the Sunni Islamist organization formed the democratically elected majority within the Palestinian alliance they enjoyed limited powers. The entire incident clearly exposed the superficialities of the alliance and harkened its inability to function as a single autonomous unit.
Further aggravating the situation was the “Benchmarks Plan” – The US brokered peace initiative designed by US General Keith Dayton in coordination with Israel. Hamas openly rejected the plan on the grounds that it was a US attempt to strengthen Abbas’ security forces. Yossi Alpher, in his article titled “The Farce?” states the implicit intentions of external forces to create a unilateral approach using the benchmarks plan and predicts the current conflict between the two Palestinian factions. “By strengthening Fatah to the point where it might challenge Hamas, which has demonstrated clear superiority on the streets of Gaza, Dayton’s scheme could reignite a Palestinian civil war and bring down the new unity government”. The statement makes it evident that international interventionist forces were already sewing the seeds of contention between the two parties, under the ruse of a peace process.
In addition, in lieu of speculation over Iran’s support of the Hamas party and obvious alliances forming between US, Israel and Fatah on the other side; it seems as though the Arab world often falls victim to larger disputes between bigger players. Is this what we call efforts towards democracy?
Egypt recently hosted a summit at Sharm al Shaikh at which Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to further isolate the Gaza government. In my opinion this will only breed resentment among the populace and increase support for the ruling and alienated Hamas party. Granted Hamas has suffered a decline in popular support after the violent uprising in June 2007 but popular support is an extremely fragile affair and susceptible to change and environment. Gaza requires massive aid and economic development at this point, something that the unity government was attempting to move toward. Depriving the Gaza strip of financial and humanitarian assistance at this crucial point in time will only foster the image of Hamas as the long-suffering martyrs in the eyes of the Palestinians.
Alternatively, if Hamas had been allowed to stay as part of the government machinery, its inability to function as a political force would have been more susceptible to criticism. At this point Hamas can once again slip comfortably into a convenient role as the militant liberator of the Palestinian people. I agree whole heartedly with Sami Moubayed’s comments in the Gulf News, “The only way to prevent Hamas from being a state-within-a-state is to make Hamas the state itself – or part of the state.” Keeping Hamas in office as a legitimate government body will temper some of its more militant tendencies and expose the natural failures of corruption and bureaucracy present within its ranks.
Interference in the Palestinian inter-state processes clearly undermines US efforts to encourage democracies within the Middle East. In this case, frozen tax funds, covert state-security interference and selective aid has been used to squash a government which was elected through popular support instead of facilitating a fair and democratic process.
There are certain things to keep in mind while calling for democracy in the Middle East. Firstly democracies are not always the end of all wars. Secondly, popularly elected democracies are not always popular amongst their international counterparts. This is evident looking at the recent developments in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. It is therefore also; no wonder that the Arab world feels apprehensive towards the democratic process – Look at the examples set before them!



* View by Gitanjali Bakshi (Strategic Foresight) 

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