x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

China's model is future for democracy

An Arab writer argues that China's torrid growth has challenged the established notion that democracy is the best way to development. Other digest topics: Syria, Arab intellectuals.

Democracy, tarnished by tyrants, is a failure everywhere, and China's model is the future

Almost a century ago, US President Woodrow Wilson went before the Congress to seek a declaration of war on Germany. "The world must be made safe for democracy", he proclaimed.

"A hundred years have since passed, and the concept [of democracy] is still unclear, and there are indications that it is already dying," Kuwaiti writer Mohamed Al Rumaihi observed in the Saudi-funded paper Asharq Al Awsat.

Western democracy has donned several mantles. Joseph Stalin once vowed to establish democracy. Yet in the process of convincing people of his concept, he killed 20 million people. Even the Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy claimed that their regimes were democratic.

"Democracy" has been tarnished by Arab tyrants, too. Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi claimed "democratic" status for a republic that opened more prisons than schools.

In Lebanon, the democratic process is faltering and the rules of the game keep changing with every election.

In Jordan, some members in parliament were accused of scandals. And the Arab Spring's activists still struggle for democracy but it is slipping through their fingers.

Even in its birthplace, the industrialised West, democracy has been questionable.

This was echoed in a recent headline, Capitalism and Inequality, in the US magazine Foreign Affairs Magazine, and another, Generation Jobless, in The Economist.

The global downturn and the ensuing wide unemployment, currency woes, crime rise, protest movements like Occupy Wall Street in New York and demonstrations in Greece and Spain are all signs of a failing democracy, argued the writer.

Today, prominent western intellectuals are calling democracy into question: How far has it contributed to peace and security? "Almost not at all," the writer contended. "Conflicts and wars still show no sign of abating."

Western democracies have become oligarchies, and are on the wane for two main reasons: their economic policies have failed and China, which is not a democracy in the western sense, is the world's fastest-growing economy.

China's torrid growth has challenged the established notion that democracy is the best way to development, particularly Francis Fuyukama's idea of the inevitable triumph of western democracy.

A declining middle class in the West has been also cited as a reason why democracies are losing momentum, the writer noted.

While the West embarks on rethinking liberal democracy, the writer concluded, the Arabs are hypnotised by this notion which is often reduced to elections, but which does little about the environment poverty, unemployment and backwardness.


Powers serve their interests in Syrian war

The crisis is Syria is no longer a popular uprising against a government, wrote Riyad Nassan Agha, a former Syrian minister of culture, in the UAE-based paper Al Ittihad.

Rather, the Syrian revolution has been derailed and now rests in the hands of the major powers, the writer said.

Liberty and dignity were all that Syrians sought. These legitimate demands, however, have turned into a turf war among big players, and a chance to restore the cold-war era.

The fallout was overwhelming and counterproductive for the Syrians. They have had no historical hostility towards Iran and Russia. So they were quite taken aback by Iran emerging as an enemy, Hizbollah shifted its policy from fighting the Israeli occupation to fighting Syrian freedom-seekers, and Russia backed the regime against the people, the writer continued.

Efforts by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to convince the regime to halt its military crackdown and initiate a peaceful solution fell flat. The militaristic regime deemed quick response to people's demands a sign of weakness that would give people an appetite for more.

Syria, as it stands, is a mess, with some hard-line factions using sectarian slogans to blur the revolution's demands for a civil democracy. But while death is taking its toll on the Syrians, major powers have other concerns.


Arab intellectuals are too often opportunists

Since the early 20th century, Arab intellectuals have been opportunistic, as well as submissive to political authorities, argued Khalil Kandil in the Dubai-based newspaper Al Emarat Al Youm.

Most Arab intellectuals would either sing praise for political leaders or manoeuvre their way to the place they want to occupy. In either case, intellectuals have acted out of self-interest, to the detriment of Arab people.

It is "the opportunism of Arab intellectuals that has created the figures of … some dictatorships," the writer noted. Leaders who took power by coup had their revolutionary manifestos written by intellectuals, who were good at striking a chord with the public.

Long-serving Arab leaders have derived their legitimacy from such propaganda, the writer said.

Fortunately, some intellectuals refused to succumb to the temptations of the authorities. They, however, had to pay for it.

Ghassan Kanafani, was such an intellectual, who was assassinated in Beirut. Abd Al Rahman Al Kawakibi, who dissected Arab dictatorship while it was still in the making, was poisoned a Cairo café. Naji Al Ali, the cartoonist, was killed in London.

Now, in the midst of the Arab Spring, intellectuals have disappeared from the "revolutionary landscape".

* Digest compiled by Abdelhafid Ezzouitni