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Middle Eastern "Democratic" Paradigm in the 21st. Century

Davood N. Rahni, Ph.D.

With the recent rapid deployment in the Middle East, the political leaders in the region have two choices: they should either take the initiative to proactively facilitate democratic change, thereby liberating and empowering their people to taste freedom, equity, and opportunity, or certain change would inevitably be imposed upon them from outside and, or in combination with the wrath of their own people. Contrary to the common preconceived notion in the West especially in the US-- that democracy, freedom and expression of one's personal belief can not be institutionalized in the Middle Eastern, albeit the so called, Islamic Countries in the 21st century, the historical precedents especially in the distant past proves otherwise. It is, for instance, meritorious to point out the historical origin of such now acclaimed "westernized" democratic values that are deeply rooted in a diverse and sophisticated region increasingly clumped in the West as the Middle East. Historically speaking, the main world religions, i.e., Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam do have their founding epoch in the Middle East and South Asia (circa 4500 BCE through 632 CE). Moreover, this region has bestowed humanity the diverse languages, writing scripts, mathematics and algebra, calendars, urbanization, trade, treaties, arts and esthetics, astronomical observations, application of materials, artistic expression, the rules of civil society, and above all declaration of human rights by Hamurabi and the same principle extended to all Nations by Cyrus the Great, the Persian "KING of Kings", who is acclaimed as the liberator of Jerusalem after it had been burnt down to ashes by the Babylonian monarchy, thereby inviting all the scattered people of Jewry to return to rebuild it. These societal tools were in retrospect the required precursors that ultimately paved the way for then the European countries to bring themselves out of the "dark" middle ages after the renascence, in particular.

One should also hasten to cite the sporadic number of independent democratic movements in the Middle East with modest degree of success in recent one hundred years, i.e., after the collapse of Ottoman Empire in Word War I, followed by the loss of Russian, English, and French colonial influences, to be replaced by the American geo-econo-political dominance after Word War II--four decades thereafter. For instance, the Iranian freedom and democratic movement of the people that commenced in the mid-eighteenth Century, led to the adoption of the 1907 Constitution that although retained a symbolic role for the monarchy, it was, nonetheless, a progressively democratic document, necessitated by the perseverance of tens of thousands of nationalists, modernist, and free thinkers. Suffice it to admit that such constitution, in which the people's resolve through democratic institutions had been envisaged, was repeatedly violated by the former dynasty in Iran, especially in the early 50's when the democratically elected prime Minister, Dr. Mohammad Mosadegh was overthrown, mainly due to the now declassified CIA sponsored covert operation, followed by reinstallation of the Mohmmad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah; the establishment of the secret police, SAVAK by the American assistance, still resonates shivers in people's spines in the region. One should cite the fact that Mosadegh had initially asked for equal partnership with the British Consortium, which was flatly rejected. This led to his successful and famous legal presentations at the World Court in the Hague in defense of Iranian people and their natural wealth, thereby nationalizing the oil. Nationalization oil by other countries worldwide followed this historical event according to domino effect.

Turning the clock back to the 13th century, the fundamental rhetorical question as pertaining to the Middle East remains the pinnacle behind the stalemate with respect to modernization. Such regressive stagnancy has been exacerbated in the twenty century, mainly due to political "puppet" establishments as cited above, that felt more obliged to report to a "higher" authority either in the west or in the skies, rather than receiving their mandates from their own people and feel accountable to their assessment at the ballot box. This has in turn led to an ever-widening cultural and technological gap between the Middle East on the one hand, and their European and American brethrens, on the other, whereby the natural resource revenues has primarily been exploited by the few for their own personal benefit through nepotism by providing unilateral partnerships to outside enterprises. Paradoxically, sitting on 2/3 of oil and gas fossil fuels, theses non-renewable soon to be exhausted energy resources, has made the Middle East more prone for outside exploitations while impeding the people's aspirations to apathetically miss the instinctive sense of struggling for survival and lack of resolve for empowerment. Even when one looks back at the past millennium when mysticisms, poetry, literature, and inward examination of "mortal" life took precedents over scientific and technological development in the Middle East, rarely does one find a human genocide as witnessed in Europe and, or South Asia in modern era. The so-called mosaics of people of diverse faith and ethnicity did live alongside each other sharing the scarce bounties more equitably and with minimum frictions, if any. Paradoxically, this is the same period onset by the advent of the crusaders era, when European barbarism was the prevailing force. So, the religious reformation movement in the region that has commenced in the past few decades, as it was the case in Europe in the sixteenth century, should be allowed to flourish independently. Any meddling by outsiders in the internal affairs of the region might, I am afraid, impede such natural progressions.

Following a number of intense terrorist activities against western interests by the "Islamic" terrorists that reached its apex on September 11, 2001 when simultaneous attacks stroke heavily killing thousands of innocent civilians in the American heartland, and further, with the recent development of the Anglo-American direct military intervention in the region as in Iraq and their commitment of direct management of natural resources, the nations in the Middle East have two fundamental choices as cited at the preamble. The fact still remains that governments, which do not necessarily have the confidence of their own people, and no legitimacy as a result, have run almost all countries in the region. Such repressive forms of governments, endorsed by the western powers and economic conglomerates over the past fifty years for their own benefits and at the expense of depriving the people in the region of rudimentary level of basic human rights and equitable economic opportunities, has led the path toward the exploitations of the disenfranchised by the few radicals toward their own illegitimate and immoral agenda. At the same token, the regional governments either looked the other way or in essence perpetrated the growth of such illegal movements, fearing they would otherwise be the direct target rather than the outsiders, namely the West. Impasse such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts has further exacerbated such precarious circumstances, thereby giving more excuses to the radical forces to exploit it.

The notions of "Arab" nationalism, or pan "Islamic" unionization that have been spearheaded by many including Jamal Abdo-Nasser of Egypt after Word War II, have apparently failed, thereby paving the way for far more radical form of religious interpretations by certain forces. This by no way means that specific Arab and Persian Nations cannot partake in preserving their own cultural identities and be proud of their contributions to the global village. As cited earlier upon careful examination of the struggle for democracy and freedom in the Middle East in recent time which goes back one hundred years, one can hardly encounter another region of the globe, which has given so much blood to see freedom realized. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the governments in the region to allow an independent, overdue, but orderly internal process of democratization and empowerment of the people, which inevitably may lead to such figureheads loosing their power grips. This is, however, a minor price to pay for preserving the integrity and long-term health of a nation/country, its people and its natural resources. On the other hand, if such governments resist the will of the people, they sooner or later have to confront the wrath of their own people, which in turn is vulnerable to indirect exploitations and, or direct confrontations by outside forces, the outcome of which would be detrimental to the ultimate aspirations of people in the countries of the region. Independent but peaceful inauguration of democratic institutions and forms of self governance, empowerment of people in the region, establishing the civil societies based on rule of law, and social, economic and political security for all, equitable and progressive standard of living, should pave the way toward regaining the confidence in transparent cultural and economic exchanges with the west that both sides would benefit from. The people of the West as represented by their own governments should provide their heartfelt support in principle and seek equal and just business partnerships for such endeavors in the Middle East, without any provocation, export of cultural icons, or any form of socio-economic or political hegemony. This will in turn bolster the position of the West as a modern role model for other nations to emulate for achieving their own democracy and freedom.

About the author:
Davood N. Rahni ( is a Professor of Chemistry and Adjunct Professor of Environmental Law, Pace University, and an Adjunct Professor, Dermatology Department, New York Medical College.

... Payvand News - 8/3/03 ... --

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