Long Is the Road to True Democracy

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In history there are no examples of instant establishment of true democracy in societies that don't have a tradition of democratic rule, democratic institutions, the rule of law, and respect for the individual and his rights. Evidently a transition period stretching over years, sometimes generations, often accompanied by violent convulsions, is required before societies that have been under autocratic rule for many years adapt to the political culture that characterizes modern-day democracies.

We look no further afield than Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt to realize that, certainly in the Middle East, there is no such thing as instant democracy. That elections alone do not necessarily lead to democratic rule has been demonstrated in Algeria, Iraq and again these days in Egypt. It seems that true democracy is established, and possibly can only be established, by an evolutionary process.

That was the case in France after the revolution. Those who argue that the United States may be an exception should remember that colonial America adapted the British concepts of democratic rule from the beginning, and its opposition to British rule was based mainly on the fact that unlike the British in Britain, the American settlers were subject to “taxation without representation.”

Some might point to Israel being an exception, and it is certainly a stellar example of democratic rule being established almost instantaneously, but it must be remembered that the World Zionist Organization since its founding in Herzl’s days, and the institutions of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in pre-state Palestine, were governed democratically. When we consider the British influence during 30 years of British rule in Palestine, we begin to see that democracy in Israel was almost inevitable.

Transitioning to democracy is particularly difficult in Islamic countries where Islamic political movements that are ideologically opposed to Western-style democracy enjoy massive support. Although prepared to come to power via elections, they intend to stay in power thereafter. For them “Islam is the answer,” not democracy.

Where “order” is maintained, it is a dictator or ruling caste that maintains “order” by any and all means. When dictators are toppled, as must eventually occur, the prevailing “order” can degenerate into violence, chaos and even civil war. This presumably is a prelude that may last for many years before another dictator seizes power or democracy gradually takes root.

These have been Israel’s neighbors since the establishment of the state 65 years ago. Israeli leaders, while ignoring the temporary nature of dictatorial rule and its possible chaotic aftermath, were quick to see the disadvantages and advantages of dictatorial rule in neighboring countries. Arab dictators could build large armies and attack Israel, they could sign peace treaties with Israel and enforce them even against popular opinion in their country, and they could be deterred from going to war against Israel if they recognized the superiority of Israel’s military.

Thus Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, and Syria was deterred from attacking Israel for many years even though no peace treaty had been signed. Both borders with Israel were quiet for many years, a quiet enforced by the dictator in power. The fall of the dictatorship in Egypt and the uprising against the Syrian dictator have changed all that. Jihadist terrorists are active in the Sinai and rebel militias are operating near Israel’s northern border. Uncontrolled by the regimes in Cairo and Damascus, they are not deterred from launching attacks against Israel with impunity.

The obvious strategy for Israel is to keep these unruly elements away from our doorstep. Luckily the Golan Heights has remained under Israeli control, and unfortunately the Sinai was turned over to Egypt and Jihadists are now operating near Eilat. Under these circumstances, abandoning Judea and Samaria seems worse than foolhardy.

Member of the Muslim Brotherhood shouts slogans at the Raba El-Adwyia mosque square in Cairo, July 4, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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