January 21, 2005

‘Occupied Democracy’: A New American Foreign Policy

By Jamal Dajani
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE

During the last year the United States has sought to bring elections to Afghanistan, Iraq and what may become Palestine. If American ideology is embraced by the Muslim world, the thinking goes, our heavy military and financial involvement in these areas will be validated. This strategy has spawned a new trend in U.S. foreign policy that might aptly be called “occupied democracy.”

All three countries where our time-honored democratic traditions are to be observed are under foreign military occupation. This fact negates the entire principal of self-determination by the majority of the people by subordinating it to a grander scheme already predetermined by the powers that be. Can what is being touted as “democracy coming to the Muslim world” really be taken as a true expression of the will of the people in each respective country?

Much feel-good fanfare was made about the U.S.-orchestrated elections in Afghanistan, which predictably resulted in the victory of our favored candidate, Hamid Karzai, who assumed a very shaky presidency. And it appears that elections “under the gun” will take place in Iraq on Jan. 30, whether the country is ready or not, if for no other reason than to shore up the credibility of Eyad Allawi, another man handpicked by the United States.

But the recent elections in the West Bank and Gaza were the flimsiest excuse of all for a forum representing the will of the people.

This so-called democratic process, which took place at breakneck speed and under Israeli occupation, resulted in the election of yet another handpicked new regime leader, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). The majority of Palestinians had not even heard of Abbas until George Bush anointed him as the “moderate” Palestinian leader. In addition, about half of all Palestinians live outside the West Bank and Gaza in the Diaspora throughout the Middle East, Europe and the Americas — yet they were completely ignored and excluded from participating in this “historic” event.

This is in sharp contrast to the extensive media coverage devoted to the efforts being made to solve the logistical problem of giving Afghani and Iraqi expatriates the ability to vote their homelands’ elections. Currently, polling places are being set up from Detroit to Damascus, in order to allow the large numbers of Iraqis living outside Iraq to participate in the impending elections.

The world has never doubted Palestinians’ ability to engage in the political process. Nevertheless, fans of these Palestinian elections are preoccupied with a futile process that hinges not on their dictates, but on the whims and dictates of the Israeli occupation. Palestinian elections are not going to bring relief to casualties of this occupation, neither to the farmers whose land was appropriated to make way for Israel’s security fence, nor to those whose every movement is stymied by mazes of more than 700 checkpoints that choke the roads.

It’s popular to portray the Palestinians as being on a par with the Israelis. To imagine that if they could only get themselves a democratically elected leader, civilized discussions and solutions would emerge. Successful democratic elections in Palestine may prove to the world that the Palestinians are capable of embracing democracy and thus raise their stock in world opinion. But as long as the status quo of Israeli occupation exists, hemming the Palestinians into smaller and smaller cantons while Israel holds all the keys, the democratic process will be irrelevant to the facts on the ground.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration and its surrogate regime remain determined to hold elections in Iraq on Jan. 30. Recently, the Iraqi representative to the United Nations, Samir Sumaidaie, asked for a postponement in order for the government to concentrate on improving security. No one listened. Others have argued that, should the elections be held on the scheduled date, the Iraqi Shiites would be guaranteed a lopsided victory at the expense of the Sunnis, many of whom will be boycotting the elections due to the presence of foreign troops. Their cries also have been ignored. Will millions of Iraqis, just like millions of Palestinians, be denied participation in these historic elections? Will the United States repeat its previous mistakes in Afghanistan and Palestine for a blitz toward democracy?

Recently I asked a friend of mine living in Ramallah if he was satisfied with the outcome of the elections, and if he felt that they had brought democracy to the Palestinians. His answer: “Freedom, and not democracy, is what we are looking for.” The same will remain true for millions of Iraqis.

Jamal Dajani is director of Middle Eastern programming at LinkTV (www.linktv.org).

Return to the Frontpage