The Israeli commentator Ben Caspit writes “In its Middle Eastern-Islamist version, democracy comes off as a recipe for riots, trouble, extremism and instability.” I know many secular Arabs are now repeating this mantra but if we think more deeply about such sweeping Orientalist generalizations about the Arab and Islamic world, we should lay the blame for this “recipe” for chaos on the imperialist-Arab axis rather than on our political culture. It isn’t that our region is incompatible with democracy. It is just incompatible with mega doses of imperialist interventions masquerading as democratization.
This chaos is the outcome of half baked revolutions that have been overtaken by the Empire and its Arab lackeys who have turned newly created “democratic” spaces into open arenas for naked [mainly sectarian] power struggles, leaving a security void that Al-Qaeda and other extremists flourish in, and a political void that only well-organized Islamists backed by petrodollars, can fill.
This chaos is what happens when the hegemonic liberal brand of democracy is grafted onto our societies, albeit in procedural form only.
This chaos is what happens when find ourselves still under the yoke of economic and political imperialism, despite having unseated authoritarian leaders, as our economies remain beholden to the IMF’s dictates, while the US/NATO and their regional allies continue to manipulate our domestic politics by propping political parties which serve their geostrategic interests.
Support for Islamists and others with sectarian agendas is not the product of political choice and pluralism, but the product of military intervention that arms and empowers these groups, granting them influence over locales they control. Sympathy for the more extreme of these religious and/or sectarian agendas is not the natural outcome of democratic elections or popular uprisings, but of the intellectual and political colonialism that has been mediated by Arab monarchies. And they have done so by means of overtly sectarian media campaigns and narratives which aim to de-prioritize the Empire and its Zionist outpost as the Arabs’ main enemy by replacing them with the “Shi’ite threat.”
The real recipe for riots, trouble, extremism and instability is not democracy but the lack thereof. This is the product of the de-democratization of the region that has accompanied Empire-sponsored and/or Empire-hijacked, uprisings, and the ensuing military struggles and political processes whose micro-management is subcontracted to its GCC allies.
Our region and our political culture have never been averse to democracy, for what could be a greater expression of popular sovereignty than our rejection of imperialism and our resistance to Israel? This has been the cornerstone of OUR understanding of democracy as popular sovereignty and self-determination. It is precisely the undermining of this democratic, freedom and justice-seeking culture—this resistance identity— that has created this chaos and instability. And that is why we call them counter-revolutionary revolutions because they constitute a revolt against the once widespread revolutionary movement against our imperialist oppressors.
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