Pro-democracy and anti-U.S.

Democracies can be the death of each other. The Arab failure to accept Israel has little to do with the absence of democracy.

Perhaps the president of Egypt would not have initiated the constitutional amendment permitting direct presidential elections had it not been for American pressure. He probably would not have released from prison the chairman of the al-Rad ("tomorrow") party either, had not Condoleezza Rice made the "administration's displeasure" clear to him. But without a local infrastructure of civil protest movements, the American administration could not have initiated the political protest.

Lebanon is an even clearer case of the administration hitching a ride on a local bandwagon. The grumbling against Syria that erupted after the Israel Defense Force's withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000 ripened into an almost nationwide protest, which the Lebanese call intifada, after the murder of Rafik Hariri.

Suddenly the paradox emerged. Apparently, nondemocratic regimes are more impressed by demonstrations and sometimes listen to public opinion more attentively than democratic states, which conduct their negotiations with parliamentary mediation.

The new regime the Americans have set up in Iraq, however, seems to be floundering. Two years after the beginning of the war, Iraq isn't managing to become a real state. Bickering among ethnic groups and the political divisiveness prevailing after the war are preventing even the appointment of a parliament chairman. The Kurdish district has become independent, and the "deocratic process" could breed a theocracy conceived in an American oven.

The sad part of all these examples - happily the United States is not involved in building the Palestinian democracy as well - is that the American adminstration and Bush in particular are perceived as a scourge. Reform movements in Egypt, Iran, Lebanon or Syria, whose members are ready to be killed for democracy in their country, go berserk the moment they are accused of receiving American funds or contributions.

To attain public legitimacy, it appears that each of these movements needs an anti-American slogan in addition to the pro-democracy slogan.

Egyptian sociologist and human rights activist Dr. Sa'ad Al-Din Ibrahim, who intends to contend for the office of president, is a case in point. Running with slogans similar to those of the Kafaya movement - the very symbol of objection to Mubarak's continued reign - and of the Muslim Brotherhood, he is considered a "traitor" because he has American citizenship.

The leaders of the opposition in Lebanon, who bring masses to the streets with the slogan for "liberty and democracy," are careful not to be identified as supporters of the United States. So are the reform activists in Iran.

The result borders on the absurd: To build a democracy in the Middle East, at least some reform movement leaders believe they must paint themselves with anti-American colors. One sign raised in the demonstration in Egypt said, "No to America, Yes to democracy."

The Druze leader Walid Junblatt, head of the opposition in Lebanon, called on the U.S. to stop interfering in his country's internal affairs. The active Palestinian democracy is adding Hamas and Islamic Jihad to its ranks and will not necessarily be pro-America.

The expectation of congruency between democracy in Arab countries and an American approach may not be fulfilled. The expectation that an Arab democracy will be a magic recipe for supporting peace with Israel is even less likely to be realized. The home truth of supporters of occupation, from the Israeli right to American conservatives, that democracies do not go to war against each other, needs refining.

Democracies can be the death of each other. The Arab failure to accept Israel has little to do with the absence of democracy. It has more to do with the region's shared history and especially with the continued occupation.