Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

February 27, 2005

The dominoes are beginning to fall

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:41 am

One of the arguments raised against the invasions of Iraq (and Afghanistan) was the claim that yes, Iraq is a brutal, human-rights-ignoring dictatorship, but there are lots of dictatorships in the world, and we can’t democratize all of them, so we shouldn’t go into Iraq, either. This always seemed to me like arguing that since we can’t cure all cancers, we shouldn’t treat any of them. However, it turns out there’s another response to this argument as well: Justice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere (with apologies — no, appreciation — to Martin Luther King, Jr.).

In other words, deposing Saddam Hussein and establishing democracy in Iraq can have a “domino effect,” causing dictatorships to fall, perhaps even peacefully, throughout the Middle East. The first sign of this came in December 2003, when Muammar Qaddafi of Libya agreed to give up it’s pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

The second sign is the renewed attempt by Lebanon to throw off the yoke of Syria, which has occupied and de facto rules Lebanon for nearly 30 years. And Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the Lebanese opposition and patriarch of the Druze Muslim community in Lebanon has specifically credited the American invasion of Iraq and the successful Iraqi elections last month:

“It’s strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq,” explains Jumblatt. “I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world.” Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. “The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.”

(Hat tip: Coyote Blog.)

Granted, the recent assassination of the anti-Syrian Lebanese leader Rafiq Hariri was a setback, but there were plenty of setbacks on the road to the Iraqi elections as well; setbacks do not mean the project is doomed.

The third sign came yesterday, when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has held office for 24 years (since the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981), took to first step toward amending the Egyptian constitution to allow candidates to run against him in presidential elections. Believe it or not, other candidates have not been allowed so far. (No wonder he keeps winning!) Geoff Smock explains:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called for changes in that country’s election laws today. The new reforms would allow more than one candidate to compete for the presidency, much different from the current system, where the Egyptian Parliament selects a candidate and a referendum takes place within the country where voters are allowed to check either “yes” or “no”. If the new law passes, election of the presidency will be a direct election with multiple candidates.

This is encouraging news, but talk alone never accomplished anything. Mubarak needs to follow through on this promise and the elections, set for September, must be free and fair. Mubarak must also allow all parties to participate, for elections can only be free and fair when everyone is given an equal chance to run. It is the responsibility of America and the world to keep the pressure on Mubarak, and we must demand full transparency so the international community may rest assured that these elections are not tainted.

But with all that said, this announcement is further validation of our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Just as the Lebanese are demanding their full democratic rights, Egypt can see the train is headed towards democracy in the Middle East and they don’t want to be left behind. Freedom is contagious, and democrats in the Middle East who saw Iraqis vote last month are asking themselves, “Why not us?” Leaders in the region are all admitting that times are changing, and that no longer can regimes deny their people their full democratic rights.

If it weren’t for the United States and President Bush, none of this would be possible and the train would still be in the station.

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