Once upon a time ... George W. Bush and democracy in the Middle East

Once upon a time, during the dark ages in the Middle East when tyrants and one party rule were the norm in countries like Egypt, Iraq and Israel/Palestine, there lived a great and wise man who believed that one day “freedom” and “democracy” would rule the earth. This man’s name was George W. Bush.

Once upon a time, during the dark ages in the Middle East when tyrants, military dictatorship, and one party rule were the norm in countries like Egypt, Iraq and Israel/Palestine, at a time when the sun of democracy had not yet risen for ordinary people living in misery, there lived a great and wise man who believed that one day “freedom” and “democracy” would rule the earth. This man’s name was George W. Bush, the dragon slayer who, with the help of his great advisors, restored the confidence of share holders in the future of the dollar and God almighty who resides in Wall Street ... or does this legend perhaps have a different ending?

The Bush administration gave us a few reasons for the invasion of Iraq. The first reason was the now infamous accusation that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction. Everyone now knows that this was just a big lie. We were also told other lies, such as the one that the invasion of Iraq would promote democracy, prosperity, and freedom and that it would bring peace to the Middle East. What has the war really brought to the Middle East?

Fraudulent elections in Iraq

On January 30 this year, fraudulent elections under the watch of American bayonets took place in Iraq. The Iraqis who actually voted were led to believe that by voting they would end the US occupation.

However, after the elections they were told, “Sorry, but the occupying armies that came to liberate you against your will, will remain until they have completed their mission, and “democracy” has been secured.”

Now the generals of the US army, who face daily attacks on their military bases and personnel, are saying that the situation has become much worse and that the army will have to remain in Iraq for some time.

In November 2003, George W. Bush delivered a well-known speech to one of the most influential neo-conservative organisations in Washington, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). In his speech, Bush told the audience:

“Our commitment to democracy is [also] tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today, and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come. In many nations of the Middle East – countries of great strategic importance – democracy has not yet taken root. And the questions arise: Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free.”

Is this true? Can we believe Bush when he says that he believes every person has the right to be free? One can hardly believe him when the election in Iraq was fraudulent, and let’s not forget the elections in the US. How can we believe him when civil liberties are under attack in the US, when he refuses to withdraw US troops in Iraq and let the Iraqis democratically handle their own affairs?

American style democracy in Egypt

The same goes for other countries in the Middle East. The so-called political reforms in Egypt for example are the result of the policies of the Bush administration, which are aimed at giving the US more control over the Middle East, while presenting these reforms as “democratic” reforms.

On May 25, a referendum was held in Egypt where people were asked to vote on proposed changes to the constitution which would allow, on paper at any rate, multi-party presidential elections. President Mubarak has been returned to office every six years since 1981 on simple yes/no referendums on his presidency.

However, Egypt’s three main legal opposition parties, and the banned Muslim Brotherhood, boycotted the referendum. The opposition parties announced in a joint statement that they would boycott the referendum on the constitutional amendment and would call on the Egyptian people to stay home.

Under the proposed changes to the constitution, an independent candidate must collect at least 250 signatures from MPs, senators and representatives in local councils, all of which are dominated by President Hosni Mubarak’s NDP, which has been in power since 1981.

The legal opposition parties, the liberal al-Wafd, the left party Tagamu, and the Nasserite party explained that the proposed changes to voter registration would only allow the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to run candidates. The Muslim Brotherhood later issued a statement in which it called for a boycott “in agreement with the position of parties and national political forces which refuse to participate [in the referendum]”. The group has been banned since 1954, but is tolerated, and has 17 MPs sitting as independents in parliament. Egyptian analysts estimate that the Brotherhood could get as many as 30% of the seats in free and fair elections.

In response to the Brotherhood’s call for a boycott the government ordered the detention of 25 members of the organization who were charged with the crime of possessing and preparing to distribute leaflets urging Egyptians to boycott the referendum. Some 800 other members of the Brotherhood are being held on charges of organizing and participating in demonstrations that took place earlier this month.

What this shows is that Egypt is extremely unstable. Bush’s idea that the war in Iraq would spread peace and stability has been exposed as a farce. The war has only spread turmoil and instability. There is not one single stable regime in the entire region. The so-called democratic reforms in Egypt do not look all that democratic, especially when the government has to arrest members of a banned organization for calling for a boycott. The proposed constitutional changes themselves were also not very democratic. By requiring potential adversaries to get 250 signatures from MPs and other political bodies firmly under the control of the president, the president clearly wants to create a “controlled” democracy, where he can manipulate the situation and get favourable results in order to maintain control.

In the weeks leading up to the referendum there were a series of demonstrations that took place all across Egypt. The government had to crack down out of fear that the situation would get out of hand. The real danger, in the eyes of the government and the ruling class, is that these democratic reforms could open the floodgates. All the frustration and anger of the masses that have built up over the last 20 years could come crashing out, and the regime could be toppled. However, the situation is already tense. If the government does not let some steam off, in the form of democratic reforms, they could face an explosion.

The “democratic” reforms in Palestine

“Democratic reforms” are not faring much better in the Israeli occupied territories, where a second round of elections took place on May 5.

Foreign observers said on the day of the election that they had found no major problems or irregularities. Fatah, the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority (PA), did well in many villages in the West Bank, wining as many as 50 of the 84 contested councils.

However, it was Hamas that emerged as the winner in large towns such as Rafah, Qalqilya, Bethlehem, Buraij and Saair near Hebron. Hamas also seems to have won as many as 32 local councils in the West Bank.

This was not supposed to happen. As in Iraq, the election committee in the PA initially announced that a large majority of the population had participated in the elections. Later on, however, they had to change this initial estimate. Some election committee officials in the PA announced that Fatah had won up to 60% of the contested councils, when in reality it was actually many independents who had won.

In the big towns such as Nablus, Hebron, Ram Allah, Gaza, Jenin and Tulkaram, the PA refused to allow elections to take place, because they feared that Hamas would win. This would obviously not look very good for Bush or the PA. For this reason Aljazeera reported that, “Some Palestinian sources close to the PA leadership have intimated to Aljazeera.net that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has privately asked PA President Mahmoud Abbas to “find a way to forestall a possible victory by Hamas in the upcoming elections”(Aljazeera, May 8 2005).

Following the US and Israeli expressions of displeasure with the results, the Palestinian Authority turned to the courts. The courts cancelled the results in 51 of Rafah’s 141 polling stations after finding irregularities in voter registration lists and some of the ballot boxes.

On May 18, the Hamas leadership announced that it would accept the decision of the courts, saying that they respected the decision and that they expected to do better in the next election. However, Hamas also announced that it might not participate in the new election.

Then, on May 20, Hamas announced that it rejected the court’s decision to nullify the results of the municipal election and declared that the decision was politically motivated. Hamas declared that the nullification of the vote had been influenced by Fatah under the guise of a judicial decree, and called for the reform of the courts, saying that they were dominated by Fatah members.

The court decision came as no surprise considering that the courts are there to preserve the interests of the ruling class. The more interesting question is, why did Hamas participate in these elections under Israeli occupation in the first place?

The answer to this question was given in Al Hayat, an Arabic newspaper published in London. According to the newspaper, “Hamas is taking another step in the direction of becoming a realistic and pragmatic movement. Yesterday the movement announced its intention to open a dialogue with the US and Britain and any other state, but not with Israel, which is an occupying state”.

It is true, of course, that the rulers of the US and Britain are not the direct occupiers of Palestine, but they do stand behind the Israeli occupation. Furthermore, are the US and Britain not occupying Iraq? As we have pointed out many times over the past year, Hamas is clearly seeking a place for itself in “Pax Americana”.

There are still many on the left, some of whom even call themselves “Marxists”, who believe that Hamas is leading an anti-imperialist struggle. However, these so-called Marxists will eventually discover the reactionary nature of the Islamic movement. The role of the Islamic movement in Israel/Palestine will not be any different from the role it has played in the service of US imperialism in other parts of the world. Hamas is attempting to become a “legitimate”, and “pragmatic” movement in occupied territories and is looking to collaborate with US imperialism. The US and Israel will use Hamas as a counterweight to and to derail any genuine revolutionary movement in Palestine.

The US has always used the Islamist movement to crush any genuine mass revolutionary movement. This was the case in Indonesia, where the Sarakat-e-Islam party was used by US imperialism to massacre a million communists and destroy the largest Communist Party outside of the former Soviet bloc. This was also the case in East Bengal (now Bangladesh), where the Jamaat-e-Islami, Al-Shams and Al-Badar organizations helped the Pakistani army to murder hundreds of thousands of left-wing Bengali activists. Similar events also took place in Afghanistan, Iraq and in many other countries. The destruction of these left-wing movements left a political vacuum, which was inevitably filled by the Islamist movement.

Although the Islamist movement, at times, can become a focal point for anti-imperialist struggles, this is only because it destroyed any legitimate left-wing groups. The growth of these movements shows the impasse of these societies. In many countries these groups are the only visible alternative to imperialism. However, the Islamist movement is a tool of imperialism, designed and built to derail any revolutionary movement and lead the movement down safe channels. This is what Hamas is trying to do. By trying to become a legitimate movement, Hamas, similar to Muqtada al-Sadr in Iraq, will allow the masses to “blow off some steam”. Hamas will become a safe alternative (from the point of view of the imperialists) to the PLO. The US will then use Hamas to carry out policies in favour of their interests, and by the time they are discredited in the eyes of the masses due to their betrayal, imperialism will already have sought out a new safe alternative.

Those so-called revolutionaries who opportunistically support Hamas and Islamist movements in other countries will be forced to reconsider this support. They will be forced to somersault and zigzag from one position to another as they try to latch on to one group after another. The Marxists have explained many times that the masses in the Middle East must lead the struggle against imperialism themselves by building a genuine, independent, revolutionary organization. Only an organization of this type, a workers’ party with a genuine socialist programme, will be able to unite the peoples of the Middle East and lead the struggle against imperialism.

This is the only way for the masses to escape the living hell that the US has brought the Middle East. As we have seen, the policies of the Bush administration, far from bringing peace and prosperity, have only brought instability and bloodshed. Bush’s lies and hypocrisy have been exposed, and so have the real interests of imperialism in the region. Bush has no real interest in “peace”, “freedom”, and “democracy”. These words are only used to disarm the masses and allow imperialism to achieve its real aims – that is to increase its military and economic power in the region. A revolutionary explosion in any one of these countries, Iraq, Egypt or Israel would be an inspiration for the millions of people living in misery in the Middle East, and would serve to unite the people in a genuine anti-imperialist struggle that would inspire workers and peasants the world over.