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03/08/11

Middle East: Troubles of the Past, Promises of the Future

By Sousan M. Alemansour

When the febrile Middle East Revolutions give way to cogent contemplation of the fate of the future, the need for formation of a democratic region will take center stage. To achieve this goal, serious effort at detente will assure political and economic stability, growth and advancement.

Middle East -- I Have A Dream

To be sure, one reason the heterogeneous Middle East has failed to advance where others succeeded is its application of religious laws to banking, civil and criminal activities. Since not all of the citizens are followers of one unified belief, such application has left the population isolated, resentful and polarized. This choice has proven volatile, exclusionary and grossly detrimental to the Middle East’s economic advancement. Educational institutions, either voluntarily or by way of government intervention, participated in exclusionary practices endorsed by religion. Social institutions and government agencies limited availability of opportunities to select groups, such as women and religious minorities, and thus foreign investment and cultural exchange suffered. While India, Turkey and the European countries advanced, the Middle East lagged behind.

The Middle East is now at a crossroads. The need for a reformed approach is axiomatic to its survival. The fate of the “Middle East” is in concatenation with that of the world and, within the region, with that of Israel and Iran.

The future framework for a successful Middle East must be grounded in democracy. There must be transparency in policies, accountability in conduct, guaranteed security and compliance with international laws.

While everyone agrees that the right to vote is an essential ingredient of a democratic society, it is by far not the only ingredient. Separation of church and state is vital. Independent executive, legislative and judiciary is essential to the proper working of a society. The right against unreasonable search and seizure is fundamental to human dignity. The right to fair trial and the right to counsel are crucial to human freedom. The eternal verities of freedom of expression, of the press and of religion guarantee social balance and harmony. Without these fundamental principles, chaos will rein and then force will set in.

One thing is certain: a religious framework has not succeeded in advancing the Middle East, socially or economically. Religious laws are inherently preferential. There are no provisions in any religious prescription that declare equality of rights for all, considering the variety of followers. Men and women are treated unequally and believers and non believers are treated differently. Unequal treatment of those equally “created” is a prescription for failure of any policy.

Point in fact, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the application of religious prescription has proven utterly discriminatory to women and to religious minorities, paving the way for mass emigration. Because of the unequal treatment of citizens, foreign investment has all but stopped, thereby leaving the state unable to implement advanced economic measures, in turn, leaving the young and educated unemployed. Add to that, Iran’s misplaced support of Hezbollah, while believing that somehow Hezbollah is instrumental in managing or protecting its foreign affairs. Clearly, such support further isolates Iran from its Arab and Israeli neighbors.

Further west, in Israel, with a loose claim to democracy, the main ingredient is its limited ability to host multiculturalism under the banner of a Jewish state. When the other countries of the Middle East, including Iran and the North African countries, discriminate against their Jewish citizens, Israel welcomes them. Make no mistake, Israel’s derogation of the rights of its non Jewish citizens is on par with the Islamic Republic’s. Avigdor Lieberman’s introduction of a vote on allegiance or loss of right to vote is noteworthy. With a reputation for having joined the now outlawed Kach party, Lieberman’s speech at the 2010 United Nations declared that peace with the Palestinians is “decades away.” Clearly, Israel’s lack of creativity in resolving its regional issues with its Arab neighbors contributes greatly to the instability of the Middle East, and further drives underground the Arab youth poised for militancy.

But, there is a silver lining in the political posturing of these two countries; found in the unique format of their governing systems.

The Iranian constitution is one attractive element of its government with functioning executive, legislative and judiciary powers. Iran also has other political entities, such as: assembly of experts, guardian council, expediency discernment council, supreme council for national security, and city and village councils. The system is rather complicated, but its intent appears to be the creation of a system of checks and balances. For example, the guardian council assures compatibility and conformity of various bills and legislation with the Islamic cannon, while the expediency discernment council assists in resolving differences between the Majlis and the guardian council. The president is the head of the government and there is an unicameral legislature with some 290 publicly elected representatives, serving four year terms. Though its independence continues to remain in doubt, the judiciary defines and enforces legal policies with an eye toward compliance with the Sharia law. A peculiarity of this system of governance is the venerable supreme leader.

By comparison, Israel does not have a constitution, but it does have a system of laws that govern how the government is structured. Israel has a judiciary, legislative and executive branch, though its president is largely a ceremonial figure. The members of its parliament, the Kenesset, are elected in nation-wide elections from party lists. The head of the party that has the best chance of forming a coalition is then chosen by the President to attempt to form a government. One apparent peculiarity of this system of governance is the number of political parties it entertains, presently standing at more than a dozen parties with seats in the Knesset. One attractive component of the government of Israel is its judicial system which consists of secular courts and religious courts, which cater to members of their respective sects; this principle stands true for the Muslim and Christian citizens of Israel.

So, while Ms. Tzipi Livni, leader of Israel’s Kadima party, may believe that the International Community should form a universal code of democracy for the Middle East, as disclosed during her recent BBC interview, her idea falls short of workability. History of the Middle East reflects that involvement by the International Community is met with resistance, skepticism and mistrust. Point in fact, until and unless Israel is ready to resolve its border problems with Palestine, the International Community is without any power to move the peace negotiations into peace treaties.

The optimistic view is that the elements of the framework for democracy already exist in the Middle East, as evidenced by the political systems of Iran and Israel. Perhaps these two countries can facilitate a meeting of the Middle East regional governments to sketch a model framework. The International Community can assist in facilitating the meetings through logistical support, presentation of ideas or offering of services, as needed or requested. In the end, it falls on the shoulders of the individual countries of the region, not the International Community to affect their own political and economic stability, growth and advancement and to formulate workable solutions to common problems.

I have a dream!

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Sousan M. Alemansour
Attorney at Law
Irvine, California

 
Martin Luther King: "I have a dream"

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