By: A. Polat

As Fareed Zakaria points out in The Future of Freedom elections do not equal democracy, and the confusion has the Bush administration caught in the middle. The recent acts of aggression both by and against Israel in the past 2 weeks highlight the reason why the Bush administration’s support of “democracy” in the Middle East has left the US in the middle with few ways out.

As Zakaria points out, democracies require that elements of the governing body be elected by the common public, but elections do not have the same requirement. You can’t have democracy without elections, but you can have elections without it.

Israel is currently waging a two-front “offensive” (aka war) both in Gaza and in Lebanon. Both are places that have been able to establish recent peace with Israel, after both gave into concessions heralded by the Bush administration, until things didn’t go according to plan. Last year the Palestinians elected Hamas, and recently the Lebanese have voted in Hezbollah into various parts of their government.

The same thing is also happening in Iraq, and again, very recently Iran as well. Both elections supported by the US, until certain people/groups were elected. But why is this happening, and is it really surprising?

President Bush today pointed out in a press conference that Israel has, “the right to defend herself,” but also added that he hopes Israel “does not do anything to damage the fragile democracy in Lebanon.” But the “democratic” process the reason that Beirut is being bombed at the moment. Israel blames the Hezbollah-rooted Lebanese government (that was elected by the people) for the mostly autonomous militant Hezbollah’s actions in the south.

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Though the amount of involvement and interaction of the Lebanese government is uncertain, the point is that the Lebanese system of government was *already* fragile — just like the other Arab countries. Elections without democracy are nothing more than popularity contests, and at the moment, no one is less popular than Israel and the US. Therefore, no one should be surprised at the results of US/Israel bashing (think Hamas, Hezbollah, Ahmadinejad) and the effects.

The Iranian people for the most part don’t support Ahmadinejad, most in Syria don’t support Al-Assad, and the majority in Lebanon don’t support Hezbollah. Look at the effects these regimes are having on their people. If war, poverty, and political isolation are the effects of “democracy,” then the US and it’s ideals will never be able to win support among the Arab people and gain legitimacy in the Middle East.

If the US continues to label “democracy” the most every nation that holds elections, then we not only continue to give democracy a bad rap, but US policy around the world as well. And, if we want better governments, regimes, and ultimately a stable, peaceful Iraq and Middle East, then we desperately need the their vote.

Last year, Islamist-backed candidates won by overwhelming majority in Saudi Arabia’s first ever municipal elections. Women were not allowed to vote.

Source: BBC News