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Democracy: Can 'wrong' guys win?

Probably the firmest pillar of President Bush's foreign policy is that the United States supports democracy.

Democracy means elections. His prize example was the Jan. 30 election in Iraq.

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But what to do when you hold an election and the wrong guys win? In Lebanon, the Iranian- supported Hizbullah made a strong showing in one stage of the national election last Sunday, which may give it greater representation in the next government. Hizbullah is listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization.

In a recent municipal election on the West Bank, the militant Hamas won control of several towns and offered to deal with Europe and the US. But Hamas is listed as terrorist, too, and the Bush administration has given no sign of willingness to talk.

During the meeting between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had some harsh words to say about Hamas and its violent behavior. It then turned out that British diplomats had met with Hamas representatives on the West Bank. Embarrassing.

In Egypt last February, President Hosni Mubarak announced that for the first time in a halfcentury, opposition candidates would be able to oppose him. There was strong approval in a referendum on the constitutional amendment that would allow that. Then Ayman Nour, Mr. Mubarak's strongest opponent, was thrown into jail, charged with forging voter petitions. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled a trip to Cairo to show how the US felt about that.

A recent study by the Council on Foreign Relations concluded that Islamist movements and political parties are likely to play a prominent role in a more democratic Middle East.

There is one grim election memory in the minds of Middle East experts: The 1991 election in Algeria, canceled when nationalist extremists made out too well. Years of violent clashes followed.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.


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