Arabs and democracy

Recently the British Financial Times reviewed the reasons for the low voter turnout in elections in Egypt, Algeria and Morocco (Sept. 12, 2007).The report referred to many reasons for the indifference to political participation, but the major reason, the paper argues, seems to be the popular belief that the views and preferences of the masses are not taken into consideration. The paper also underlines another important point: that the US seems to have abandoned its policy of promoting freedom in the region, encouraging the repressive rulers of the Middle East to discard democratic tendencies and popular choices.

Data shows that elections are held less frequently and that voter turnout has dramatically decreased even in Arab states where elections were held. Noting that the public made it clear that it will not waste its time and vote for parliaments that always agree with the president, the paper also recalls that the people are determined not to let the rulers exploit their votes to justify their repressive regimes. The paper recalled that only 35 percent of the electorate cast their votes in the elections in Algeria, while the officially announced participation rate in the referendum held by Hosni Mubarak to strengthen his rule remained at 27 percent, also noting that the opposition argued the actual figure was 10 percent. Finally, the paper cites the 41 percent participation in Morocco as another example of low turnout in the Arabic world.
The report points to an important reality. It is important in democracies to ensure public participation. However, high turnout in authoritarian regimes does not necessarily mean that the people embraced the system. So far the participation rate in the authoritarian Arab states has always been around 100 percent. In the elections, the single presidential candidate received at least 98 percent of the votes in these countries. If the voter turnout decreased as detailed by the paper, it means that there is an important change that should be considered seriously.
There are two reasons for the decreasing turnout that can be taken as a means of protest by the people against the regime: first, the periodically held elections do not lead to any changes. People go to the polls and their votes do not seem to have counted. Everybody is aware that there is a democracy charade. But the international organizations and the independent observers who follow the elections in the region do not seem to have given serious thought to it.
The second reason is that people now strongly believe that the Western actors who back the authoritarian regimes in Arab countries are pretty selective about the competing parties and the candidates who run in the elections. At a time when the disruptive impacts of the great tragedy in Algeria in 1992 were still fresh, Mahmoud Abbas, praised and supported by Israel and the US, introduced significant amendments to the election laws and made important decisions on the presidential and parliamentary elections. Under the new laws the candidates would have to run under the party organization of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the candidates pledge to comply with decisions taken by the PLO. This means that Hamas will not take part in the elections. Furthermore, voters will not be able to vote for independent candidates.
This is the kind of democracy that the US-backed PLO, the US and Israel favor for the Islamic world. The masses prefer remaining outside of this democracy game. The Arab world stands pretty close to democracy in terms of popular tendencies and political preferences, whereas the West systematically keeps it from democratic progress.
 Todays Zaman
* View by Ali BULAC

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