Saturday, January 28, 2006

What Hamas' election means for Egypt

Numerous commentators are already linking Hamas' surprise victory in PNA elections to the strong showing of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. I would caution against making too sweeping a statement, but it is certainly clear that Islamist parties are showing strength in many parts of the region. One important factor in this is the attack on civil society by authoritarian governments. Whereever this occurs, and it has occured both in Egypt and the PNA and elsewhere, you drive opposition into Islamist parties. Egyptian activists have been saying for many years.

Meanwhile, other commentators have focused on how this hurts U.S. policy in the region and President Bush's drive for democratization. I don't entirely buy this. Obviously, a Hamas victory is not to our liking; neither would a Muslim Brother victory in Egypt. But our support for democracy in the region must not be contingent upon those countries electing governments we like. In fact, everyone seems to be overlooking a remarkable development: the defeat of a long-standing ruling party and the essentially peaceful transfer of power to an opposition group. This is the critical element of any election. I see this as an earthshattering development, one that should inspire voters in Egypt and elsewhere in the region that they too have the power to get rid of their rulers. How can that not be a good thing.

So the U.S. should not pull back on its push for democracy. Of course I have long argued that regardless of what we do, Egyptian activists will continue the democraticization effort and to far greater effect than what we do. However, the events in PNA do bring out one more point: there is a difference between pushing for democracy and pushing for human rights. The Bush administration has concentrated on the former rather than the latter. I would see the priorities reversed. Many people generally assume that democracy and human rights are closely linked, and certainly they are related, but they aren't the same thing. Democracies abuse human rights. This is now so much more evidentially true in 2006 than any time before. On the other hand, other forms of government, such as monarchies, can rule with a very strong human rights record. Amnesty International does not take a stand on what kind of government countries have. We expect all governments to protect the human rights of its citizens and to end human rights abuses in general. This is the commitment Hamas must now make in power, and a commitment we will expect them to fulfill, just like every other government. Ensuring Hamas fulfills that commitment should be our main concern. Fretting about whether Middle East democracy will lead to the Islamist victories across the region should be secondary.

Here are some recent posts about the election

The Washington Post says the election is a defeat for the Bush administration

Blogger D-Day
says the election shows the U.S. is too narrowly focused on elections.

Slate wonders what it will take to civilize Hamas

Blogger Mickey Kaus questions the usefulness of going easy on Hamas

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