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10 Warnings for Arab Democracies

Posted on Jul 10, 2011
Flickr / Erik - parked in Cairo these days

Egyptian men celebrate in Cairo’s Tahrir Square days after Hosni Mubarak left office.

Truthdig columnist Juan Cole has some sobering words of caution for those in the Arab world with a “once-in-a-century” shot at making their nations into thriving, functional democracies. In addition to preventing the institution of corporate personhood and making compulsory voting a national policy, Cole’s suggestions have to do with legislating against the ability of the moneyed classes to use their wealth and power to dominate a nation’s political process.

Cole speaks as a member of a society in decline, and his suggestions are written with the tenderness and concern of an elder who is painfully aware of the hazards of self-determination. —ARK

Informed Comment:

... Let me just warn you about democracy. It is a vague ideal and the old-established democracies like the United States are seeing it undermined by a whole host of undemocratic practices that are reminiscent of the police states you just challenged. Here is some advice on how to avoid the mistakes of my generation of Americans, who have perhaps fatally undermined our constitution and turned ourselves into a corporation-dominated national security state. From a twilight democracy heading toward being a large Company town where the workers are deprived of any right to privacy or a fair share of national income to a young vibrant set of democratic movements in the Arab world, I send you this dire warning.

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By Ian Kocher, July 12, 2011 at 10:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Cole came up with a wish list to die for. Would that we have some of these features in our own tired democracy. Adopting ‘voting on a Sunday’ alone would boost participation to no end. That takes a simple congressional vote to accomplish; the absence of which is proof positive of the calculated marginalization of the people by the elite, Democrat or Republican.

It is heartening to read so many comments that add a run-off mechanism to Cole’s List. May I suggest yo’all consider the ‘progressive ballot’ method, whereby the voter indicates his or her first, second and third choices on the ballot. In the event his or her first first choice fails to obtain a majority of the votes cast (as first choice), the computer automatically assigns this vote to the second choice indicated on the ballot. This assignment to the next choice down is repeated if a majority winning candidate still does not materialize, until one does. All by computer in the blink of an eye.

This avoids a drawn-out, expensive and low turn-out run-off election. It also empowers minority party candidates and voters.

As things now stand, good luck to us all!

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THX 1133 is not in the movie...'s avatar

By THX 1133 is not in the movie..., July 11, 2011 at 9:13 pm Link to this comment

With the U.S. democracy all but gone; this seems wasted
on the Arab States.
It should be aimed, ever so pointedly, at the U.S.
But then as Juan Cole concludes; it’s probably too late
late for the U.S. and us…

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By glider, July 11, 2011 at 8:34 pm Link to this comment

Very good advice except for the bit suggesting we have some semblance of universal health care that is being attacked by elitists now.

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By CJ, July 11, 2011 at 10:12 am Link to this comment

I was just writing about the global elite waging war on the lower orders who
perform most of the actually necessary labor…Cole’s second to last paragraph,
which isn’t strongly enough put. But yeah, “It probably is too late for us.”

Most all Cole’s warnings are right on and ought be heeded, but for #4, which I
think a vicious intrusion on a person’s right not to vote. If, however, “none of
the above” were included on every ballot I’d be okay with it…maybe. How about
fining people, with reference to #9, for not joining unions? Course there’s at
least one reason people don’t join, and not just a propaganda one either:
corruption. But unions could certainly be made more truly democratic, unlike
so-called “representative democracy,” which is what Cole is proposing for
countries he lists when he calls for parliamentary elections. Albeit, those would
be better than our own to the degree proportional. Our own winner-take-all
elections are disastrous, the main reason we’ve only two political parties, if
that, since they mostly agree on most everything, certainly on foreign policy.

Speaking of corruption, which, alas, is inevitable in the case of representative
democracy, or republicanism. Simply banning TV ads won’t make a difference.
Representatives receive all sorts of pay-offs. Term limits might then be useful,
though even then ex-reps tend to wind up with cushy jobs in the private sector
afterward, their public offices having served as career launchers. And they could
come back, presumably.

None of it works very well, primarily because the economic system underlying
the political one is capitalist, which is fundamentally undemocratic. That is,
capitalism could never survive democracy, at least not over the long haul.

There’s always redistribution, but the very mention of it drives the upper class
to frenzy. Capitalism results in class division every time. Excuse is provided in
terms of “merit,” which makes for a false discussion, because people are not, in
point of fact, created equal. Middle Easterners, incredibly brave, have wound up
at gunpoint, and so just about did some Wisconsinites when they kicked up a
fuss. Now Egyptians are facing the army. Armies are employed and deployed by
upper classes, primarily to defend wealth against any and all comers who’d be
takers or expropriators. Still, Venezuela and Bolivia have proven something can
be done, though there remain charismatic leaders who might become dangerous if not already.

But Latin America is extent example for the Middle East.

#11, and most important, take back your resources, kick out foreign exploiters
no matter their investment, or do as Chavez did and force a reasonable deal if
capitalism is what there is, and it is what there is. Ensure redistribution then—
enshrined in a constitution. And not based on merit, thanks anyway. Every
society anyway needs house-cleaners a lot more than computer programmers,
let alone bankers and artists. Ensure compensation accordingly then. Make
egalitarianism the goal and not “equal opportunity,” which is pure capitalist
ideology that finally blames the victim.

Use capitalism, maybe make it work for you and not against you when it works
only for an elite. I doubt that’s possible.

The start of Cole’s #10 would be a start, while the rest of it tends to prove why
the first can’t be done: class privilege, power, corruption, corrosion. Courts are
of no use as judges are no less susceptible.

#12 “Teach your children,” to think for themselves as human beings. Avoid
indoctrinating with religion and political-economy, including racism and

Or, start something new, not that empire will ever allow that, no matter
empire’s increasingly embarrassing claim that it desires only for people to be
free, like empire knows the first thing about that.

I wish you the best, that you might provide us with an example of how it certainly could be done.

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By THX 1133 is not in the movie..., July 10, 2011 at 9:18 pm Link to this comment

Blackspeare, July 10 at 1:32 pm Link to this comment
Fortunately, Arabs are immune to democracy!
Thanks for the chuckle…
Arab Democracy = Oxymoron


Robespierre115, July 10 at 2:47 pm Link to this
The Arabs should ignore any advice from the US and
instead look to South America, a region in similar
social, economic conditions which has been fighting
to be independent and more equal for over a decade
now by electing a mix of radicals, social democrats
and liberals who have different styles but promote
regional cooperation.
Now there’s an idea… wink

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By prisnersdilema, July 10, 2011 at 6:36 pm Link to this comment

Americans always talk about Democracy, when they are about to take over a country,
depose it’s leadership, seize it’s natural resources, and kill all the adult males over the
age of 11. It sounds much nicer that way on the nightly news.

Freedom means next to nothing, when you have nothing to eat, and no place to live.
But of course, thats your fault. Because everyone knows that God rewards in kind, so
you must have done something wrong. Americas corporations will ensure that this will be
the life time you enjoy, post liberation.

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By louiss123, July 10, 2011 at 5:01 pm Link to this comment

The muslim world should definitely not read a word of this article. This
Juan guy actually uses the word freedom, then he says to institute compulsory
voting..and even fining people if they don’t vote. Again, the problem with
liberals..they have no problem using force to make people do what they think is
Grow up liberals…you have your opinions..leave it at that. Don’t use force(gov. and
laws)to make folks do something they may not want to do.

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Robespierre115's avatar

By Robespierre115, July 10, 2011 at 2:47 pm Link to this comment

The Arabs should ignore any advice from the US and instead look to South America, a region in similar social, economic conditions which has been fighting to be independent and more equal for over a decade now by electing a mix of radicals, social democrats and liberals who have different styles but promote regional cooperation.

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By Michael Cavlan RN, July 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm Link to this comment

Create an American Spring

Time to shut down the Kabuki Theatre of the Absurd right here in the US.

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Blackspeare's avatar

By Blackspeare, July 10, 2011 at 1:32 pm Link to this comment

Fortunately, Arabs are immune to democracy!

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By Seashells, July 10, 2011 at 12:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The piece would be absolutely hilarious if it weren’t so insulting to the reader’s
intelligence. There is absolutely no such thing as an Arab democracy. The author
is surely aware of this in point #5: “Put separation of religion and state in your
national constitutions and make it hard to amend the constitution. I know this
piece of advice will probably fall on deaf ears in the Muslim world, but really,
you’d be doing yourselves a big favor.” 

This reads like a juvenile rant against all that’s wrong with America without the
slightest bit of actually applicable advice. Egypt “overthrew” Mubarak but nothing
has changed and they’re back to protesting. If the author’s actualy intent is to
change the status quo in America, then he should pick one issue (not 12) and
propose a solution. 

If the intent is to help “Arab democracies” then the author is as delusional as Bush
Jr., Obama and all who ever have tried unsuccessfully to create a democratic
religious state (Jewish OR Arab). At least the Vatican doesn’t pretend to be a
democracy!  Any religious state is BY DEFINITION undemocratic and to think
otherwise shows a dangerous lack of historical perspective.

Israel is probably the worst offender, as it has the trappings of democracy though
half its population cannot vote. That’s far worse than the U.S. track record. Such a
situation undermines a nation’s sovereignty (remember South Africa during
apartheid?) and is unsustainable.

Deaf ears indeed. There will never be an Arab democracy.

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By gerard, July 10, 2011 at 12:54 pm Link to this comment

Considering our nation’s increasingly abusive attempts at military dominance, and our own widespread inability to prevent the takeover of our Constitutional rights by a handful of business and bureaucratic moguls threatening repression, it takes a lot of hutzpah.
  Yes, a lot of hutzpah for any of us to advise young, living, breathing, yearning multitudes of “conscientious objectors” in the Middle East who have found voice and come together without weapons to demand their right to live and grow beyond oppression, thought control and violence.

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By Lew Ciefer, July 10, 2011 at 12:13 pm Link to this comment

Arab democracies .... Bwaaaaaaaaa! Okay….Bwaaaaaa!

What’s nest? A politician who doesn’t lie?

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