Is democracy a security issue?
By Khalil Al-Anani
First Published 7/23/2008
The problem that authoritarian regimes have with democracy is not only that it may undermine the foundations of authoritarianism and tyranny and reveal the false legitimacy on which such regimes rely to survive, but also in the redistribution of roles and power on an equal basis where there is no place for security forces, corruption or favoritism.
Now there is a decline in the number of authoritarian countries around the world, with the exception of Zimbabwe and some failed countries in Africa.
In fact, there are no authoritarian states, in the traditional sense, except in the Arab world.
The logical question to ask next is: Why?
I think that one of the reasons for this "endemic" tyranny in the Arab world is that most of its regimes deal with democracy as a "national security" issue, for which State bodies and authorities are mobilized. For them it is a threat to the existence of the State itself, which is intertwined with authoritarian regimes to one body.
This way, all forms of democracy, such as political participation, freedom of expression, freedom to demonstrate and go on strike and calls for pluralism and freedom, become a means of violating State sovereignty, which requires deterrence by using all types of force and repression.
This happens in Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. All these regimes deal with all manifestations of democracy as an imminent danger that must be stopped and confronted.
These regimes get angry when the main party in this "democratic violation" is the Islamists. What Algeria did in the early 1990s against the Islamic Salvation Front was tantamount to 'going to war', in which the National Liberation Front (NLF) resorted to all methods of repression and violence to stop the expansion of the Islamists, not only as a threat to the survival of the false legitimacy of the ruling NLF, but also to Algerian society itself.
What a paradox when the NLF confronted the popular will, which gave the Islamists a majority in the 1990 local elections, while claiming that it sought to protect society from the Islamization threat.
The same thing happened in Tunisia in the early 1990s when the authorities banned Renaissance Party led by Rached Ghannouchi, on the grounds of threatening Tunisian national security, despite the fact that it was a peaceful moderate movement adopting a progressive political and religious discourse.
This also happened in Morocco five months ago, when spokesman for the Justice and Development Party Mohammed Amin Rakala was arrested under the pretext of belonging to a Jihad cell led by Abdelkader Belaerj.
This has been happening with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt since its victory in the 2005 legislative elections. Here we must recall a famous statement by President Mubarak to Al-Osboa weekly newspaper in February 2007 when he said that the Brotherhood is "a threat to Egyptian national security." A few days ago, Minister Mufid Shehab said there was no difference between the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Israel in terms of holding a dialogue with it. I believe that His Excellency the minister knows who is more dangerous to the Egyptian national security in reality.
This distorted approach in dealing with the issue of democracy is not limited to Arab regimes — the United States is involved. Since the 9/11 attacks the Bush administration has been dealing with the issue of democracy and freedoms as an essential question to US national security. It sought to propagate democracy and freedoms for a short time, but quickly backtracked on supporting democracy when the Islamists benefited from it.
Arab authoritarian regimes managed to hatch a deal with the Bush administration to swap the issue of security for democracy.
Despite differences between the American and Arab sides, both agreed on one idea: democracy has been and will remain a national security issue, and no consolation to Arab reformists.
Khalil Al-Anani is an expert on political Islam and Democratization in the Middle East and is a visiting fellow at Brookings Institution. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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