I just read these very moving words written by a student blogger who recently graduated from Damascus University’s School of Architecture: ” [Who] Will tell the world about the students who had to leave so early because the US and its Arab and Turkish allies thought we don’t have democracy.. We had democracy when me and my friends of all sects sat on this table every day, spoke about everything, studied, spent the best times ever.. now .. this blood is not democracy.” I don’t think one can find a more workable definition of democracy than this one.
The Empire’s attempts to diminish Chavez’s stature are not confined to its absurd reference to his rule as a “dictatorship”, despite Carter’s affirmation that the “Election Process in Venezuela is the Best in the World.” This de-eulogizing campaign carried out by human rights organizations and mainstream media also operates in other, more subtle ways, such as calling him a “self-proclaimed revolutionary” and a “self-styled socialist”, insinuating that objectively speaking, he was neither. Another pervasive technique used to detract from his democratic credentials, is the emphasis on the “cult of personality” he supposedly nurtured in order to cling on to power. This discourse aims not only at presenting the revolutionary leader as a power-crazed demagogue, but also at recasting popular support for his leadership as stemming from the manipulation of irrational impulses rather than his organic relationship with the people. In this manner, the massive outpouring of grief that has overwhelmed Venezuela, is reduced to “raucous” and “militant” street politics in dire need of a civilized, western liberal corrective. Because when masses of people elect a leader from their own ranks to represent their cause, and then shower him with love and praise for remaining true to their cause, this is clearly the anti-thesis of democracy in the western liberal lexicon.
Right, so when Gadaffi and Assad tried to stamp out foreign backed insurrections, they were/are “brutal dictators” and “authoritarian regimes” “killing their own people”, but when the US is faced with unarmed American protesters demanding economic justice, they will hunt them down inch by inch, house by house, home by home, zenga, zenga with fleets of drones, some of which could become weaponized. And not only that, they will allow corporations to do the same, turning Amerika into the world’s sole totalitarian state monitoring the minutiae of its citizens’ lives in typical Orwellian, Big Brother fashion: “30,000 of them are expected to be in use by 2020, some as small as hummingbirds – meaning that you won’t necessarily see them, tracking your meeting with your fellow-activists, with your accountant or your congressman, or filming your cruising the bars or your assignation with your lover, as its video-gathering whirs…The Pentagon can now send a domestic drone to hover outside your apartment window, collecting footage of you and your family, if the secretary of Defense approves it. Or it may track you and your friends and pick up audio of your conversations..Given the Department of Homeland Security militarization of police departments, once the circle is completed with San Francisco or New York or Chicago local cops having their own drone fleet – and with Chase, HSBC and other banks having hired local police, as I reported here last week – the meshing of military, domestic law enforcement, and commercial interests is absolute. You don’t need a messy, distressing declaration of martial law. And drone fleets owned by private corporations means that a first amendment right of assembly is now over: if Occupy is massing outside of a bank, send the drone fleet to surveil, track and harass them. If citizens rally outside the local Capitol? Same thing.”
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.
Not that we ever needed further proof after Libya and Syria, but as Mursi’s power grab demonstrates today, neither individual rights nor real participatory democracy can be attained when imperialism still holds a firm grip over our region. There can be no freedom from (individual rights) or freedom to (social and economic rights) without the national right to self-determination.There can be no freedom or dignity of any kind so long as there is US domination.There can be no freedom for any Arab so long as Palestine is not free.
Amen to that. Excerpt from Khamenei’s inaugural speech at NAM summit:
“The UN Security Council has an illogical, unjust and completely undemocratic structure and mechanism. This is a flagrant form of dictatorship, which is antiquated and obsolete and whose expiry date has passed. It is through abusing this improper mechanism that America and its accomplices have managed to disguise their bullying as noble concepts and impose it on the world. They protect the interests of the West in the name of “human rights”. They interfere militarily in other countries in the name of “democracy”. They target defenseless people in villages and cities with their bombs and weapons in the name of “combating terrorism”. From their perspective, humanity is divided into first-, second- and third-class citizens. Human life is considered cheap in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and expensive in America and Western Europe. The security of America and Europe is considered important, while the security of the rest of humanity is considered unimportant. Torture and assassination are permissible and completely ignored if they are carried out by America, the Zionists and their puppets. It does not trouble their conscience that they have secret prisons in various places on different continents, in which defenseless prisoners who have no legal representation and have not been tried in a court of law are treated in the most hideous and detestable way. Good and evil are defined in a completely one-sided and selective way. They impose their interests on the nations of the world in the name of “international law”. They impose their domineering and illegal demands in the name of “international community”. Using their exclusive and organized media network, they disguise their lies as the truth, their falsehood as true, and their oppression as efforts to promote justice. In contrast, they brand as lies every true statement that exposes their deceit and label every legitimate demand as roguish.”
I suppose it was only inevitable that the same liberal imperialists who tried to market the most repressive and archaic Arab regimes as symbols of the democratic, freedom-loving “international community”, and who desperately try to present sectarian executioners, rapists and terrorists as an armed “resistance” fighting “tyranny”, would promote a group of psychologically deranged women who public
ly perform sexually humiliating and deviant acts involving poultry, as beacons of women’s emancipation (read this excellent feminist critique of the movement here). Only in the increasingly absurd world of liberal interventionism do Wahhabism, bloodthirsty militiamen and pregnant women engaged in public orgies while stuffed bears look on, become our enlightened allies whose sole concern is to liberate us from the dark forces of anti-imperialist oppression.
In the final analysis, the “democracy” that the “Arab Spring” has ushered in has only served Empire’s long-standing stratagem of divide-and-rule. Any democratic reforms which occur in a highly polarized and sectarian environment that has been stripped of all Arab nationalist identity—and with it, the preeminent status the liberation of Palestine once enjoyed— degenerates into the tyranny of imperialist-enabling majorities who win power by default in liberal, though by no means democratic, elections.
What we are witnessing in the Arab world today is the unfolding of liberalism, not of democracy. For at the end of the day, democracy isn’t merely procedural aspects like elections and political reforms, but more substantially, the ability of people enjoying popular sovereignty to shape their own political identity, control their national resources and participate in determining their national destiny. Indeed, the loss of national sovereignty and self-determination in Libya and Syria, coupled with the triumph of narrow sectarian loyalties over Arab national identities, has only resulted in the de-democratization of the region, which is now even more firmly in the Empire’s grip.
I don’t understand why we have to be politically “tolerant’” and endorse political diversity and pluralism. Of course, I am not referring to countries like Lebanon and Syria where even Zionist collaborators and NATO lackeys must be dialogued with to prevent/end civil war which is a far greater evil. But just in the general, theoretical sense. How does embracing a diversity of views which include support for Israel and Amerika contribute to the justice or freedom of a system? Western liberal “democracies” don’t tolerate our anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist views. They don’t tolerate our Resistance option, neither in their media nor in their Academy nor in their political system. At the end of the day, democracy means popular sovereignty; a people’s right to determine their own destiny. How can that be safeguarded when some people are allowed to challenge this right and even win public office and usurp it? How can we allow an oppressed people— who are subjected to daily mainstream propaganda— to colonize themselves? How is that even considered a “right” that needs to be protected? How is tolerating and encouraging their self-colonization and subjugation conducive to their freedom? Just as freedom of speech in the West is confined within clearly demarcated liberal parameters, which ensure the continuity of the imperialist world order, we should confine freedom of expression within resistance parameters: all political debate must be governed by two constants—a rejection of Israel’s right to exist and a rejection of western imperialism. That is the only way of guaranteeing democracy as we define it.
At the end of the day, we shouldn’t be surprised at the outcome of the first round of the Egyptian presidential elections. What other probable outcome could we have expected given the SCAF and the United States’s hold on the political system? What better way to reverse Empire’s losses brought about by a revolutionary movement, than by attempting to co-opt and placate it with “procedural democracy”?
The Egyptian case is an example of US-promoted “low-intensity democracy” or “polyarchy”, par excellence: a western-backed bourgeois elite stage-manages elections designed to suppress, rather than express, popular aspirations for more radical political change. To facilitate its task, it is equipped with tools like foreign funding of Empire-serving candidates, vote-buying, the creation of a climate of apathy and or/intimidation to ensure a low voter turnout in rival constituencies, redrawing electoral districts and gerrymandering to ensure the election result (though this didn’t occur in Egypt, it is practiced elsewhere) and a fair —though not excessive— amount of voter/election fraud thrown in when faced with stiff competition from anti-system candidates who enjoy real popular legitimacy.
What the Egyptian case should teach us, especially the more idealistic among us, is that the outcome of any post-Assad (assuming he is overthrown) “democratic transition”’ would be far more of a sham and usurpation of the popular will than the election in Egypt or the elections engineered by the Syrian Baath. Imagine the electoral outcome in a country like Syria where US-NATO-GCC intervention is far more direct and flagrant than it is in Egypt; where Empire’s proxies are far more openly obsequious, imperialist and Zionist, not to mention sectarian, than any of the Egyptian regime’s candidates. I don’t know about you, but if I am faced with a choice between low-intensity democracy election results and a quasi-democratic or even sham election run by an authoritarian regime who enjoys popular support and confronts Empire, I choose the latter. When that mythical third choice moves from the realm of utopia to reality, I will reassess my choices.
As with the voter turnout for the constitutional referendum, a little over half of voting age Syrians participated in the recent parliamentary elections. “Ridiculous” [to quote the US’s official reaction] or not, that’s half the population once again bestowing legitimacy upon Assad’s political system, a number that closely corresponds with turnouts in the West. Presumably, this figure would have been even higher were it not for the unstable security situation. And for all the skeptics out there who will argue that there was no “independent” (read, NATO countries) observers to monitor the elections, one would imagine that if the regime wanted to fabricate figures it have could given itself a slight, though still realistic, spike in support.
While I have no illusions about the extent of political pluralism in Syria under the new reforms, does AFP really have to use quotation marks around the word “multiparty” in is latest report on the parliamentary elections? Is the US bipartisan system or Great Britain’s “two-plus” system any more pluralistic? Is there any real difference in strategic vision or ideology between left and right? Are there drastically different domestic and foreign policies even? And if not, then doesn’t that suggest there is no genuine political competition which is the cornerstone of “representative democracies” (regardless of what an oxymoron this term is)? Faced with very similar party agendas, does the western voter really have a genuine CHOICE to make? And if he/she doesn’t have real alternatives to choose from, how can we call that “freedom of choice”?
Isn’t that one of the principal causes of increasingly low voter turnouts in western countries? Isn’t the line that separates voter apathy in the West from the boycotting of elections by the opposition in Syria, really a very fine one between those who are conscious of the system’s lack of legitimacy and those who have lost faith in it without being conscious of the reasons why?
Do anti-system parties even see the light of day in the US and Europe? Do these liberal democracies really tolerate, let alone encourage the growth of parties which seek to subvert liberalism and institute alternative regime-types in its place? Would the American government which enjoys no more popular support than its opposite number in Syria, really allow enemy-funded parties that seek to overthrow it , a place in the political system?
If the Syrian opposition discredits the elections as little more than a “sham” designed to “preserve” Assad ‘s “autocratic rule” as AP, AFP and other mainstream media are reporting, is that really any different from the general purpose of elections in the west which are designed to merely recirculate the same class of capitalist-liberal elites?
Given that this is what two-party and multi-party politics has come to mean, doesn’t that give the Syrian political system every much as right as its western counterparts to call itself a multi-party system minus the quotation marks?
Written 5 years before Arab “Spring” and US foreign policy thereafter: “What is really being promoted is “procedural” or “low-intensity democracy”, which serves to actually “suppress aspirations for substantive democratisation” by “focus[ing] on aspects of democracy which are congruent with capitalism (i.e. individual and contract rights) to the detriment of its participatory and social aspects.” Thus although it is correct to say that the US is “promoting democracy” of sorts, it would be more accurate to refer to these efforts as “promoting polyarchy”…The promotion of “low-intensity democracy” is aimed not only at mitigating the social and political tensions produced by elite-based and undemocratic status quos, but also at suppressing popular and mass aspirations for more thoroughgoing democratisation of social life in the twenty-first century international order.”
Source: Michael Barker, “Promoting polyarchy in Serbia,” Znet, 29 October, 2006
”Myth 4. Capitalism means freedom True freedom is only achieved under capitalism with the help of the so-called “market self-regulation.” The goal is to create something similar to a religion of capitalism, where everything is taken as is, and deny people the right to participate in making macroeconomic decisions. Indeed, the freedom in decision-making is the ultimate freedom, but it is only enjoyed by a narrow circle of powerful individuals, not the people, and not even the government agencies. … Myth 5. Capitalism means democracy Democracy can only exist under capitalism. This myth, which smoothly follows from the previous one, was created in order to prevent the discussion of other models of social order. It is argued that they are all dictatorships. Capitalism is assigned such concepts as freedom and democracy, while their meaning is distorted. In fact, society is divided into classes and the rich, being ultra-minority, dominate over all others. This capitalist “democracy” is nothing but a disguised dictatorship, and “democratic reforms” are processes opposite to progress. As the previous myth, this one also serves as an excuse to criticize and attack non-capitalist countries. Myth 6. Election is a synonym of democracy Election is synonymous with democracy. The goal is to denigrate or demonize other systems and prevent a discussion of political and electoral systems where leaders are determined through non-bourgeois elections, for example, on the virtue of age, experience, or popularity of candidates. In fact, it is the capitalist system that manipulates and bribes, where a vote is a conditional term, and election is only a formal act. The mere fact that the elections are always won by representatives of the bourgeois minority makes them unrepresentative. The myth that bourgeois elections guarantee presence of democracy is one of the most entrenched, and even some left-wing parties and forces believe it.”