Sunday, February 12, 2012

'Democracy Promotion' Rings Hollow in the Middle East

Why American 'Democracy Promotion' Rings Hollow in the Middle East


    Egypt's crackdown on Republican and Democratic

    organisations is hardly surprising: they're

    widely seen as stooges of US empire


By Mark Weisbrot

The Guardian (UK)

January 31, 2012


I have to laugh when I see the International Republican

Institute (IRI) described by the international media as

an "organization that promotes democracy" (in this

case, on NPR). The IRI is in the news lately because

Egypt's military government has put some of its members

on a "no-fly" list and thereby trapped them in the

country, facing investigation and possible trial. I am

wondering just how credulous these journalists and

editors are: if I were to describe the Center for

Economic and Policy Research as "a magical organization

that transforms scrap metal into gold", would that

become CEPR's standard description in the news?


The IRI is an international arm of the US Republican

party, so anyone with the stomach to watch the

Republican presidential debates might doubt whether

this would be a "democracy-promotion" organization. But

a look at some of their recent adventures is enough to

set the record straight: in 2004, the IRI played a

major role in overthrowing the democratically elected

government of Haiti. In 2002, the head of the IRI

publicly celebrated the short-lived military coup that

overthrew the democratically elected government of

Venezuela. The IRI was also working with organizations

and individuals that were involved in the coup. In

2005, the IRI was involved in an effort to promote

changes in Brazil's electoral laws that would weaken

the governing Workers party of then President Lula da Silva.


Most recently, in 2009, there was a military coup

against the democratically elected government of

Honduras. The Obama administration did everything it

could to help the coup succeed, and supported

"elections" in November of 2009 to legitimize the coup

government. The rest of the world - including even the

Organization of American States (OAS), under pressure

from South American democracies - refused to send

observers. This was because of the political repression

during the campaign period: police violence, raiding of

independent media, and the forced exile of political

opponents - including the country's democratically

elected president.


But the IRI and the National Democratic Institute (NDI)

- its Democratic party-linked counterpart - went there

to legitimate the "election". But don't take my word

for why they chose to participate. Here is what the

USAID, part of the US State Department and the major

funder of IRI and NDI activities, had to say about

their role (pdf) in Honduras:


    "The absence of the OAS and other recognized

    international observation groups made NDI and IRI's

    assessment/observation processes more meaningful in

    the eyes of the international community.  The

    recognition of a free, fair and transparent

    electoral process provided a strong argument to

    support the new government. [.] The international

    "assessment" conducted by NDI and the "observation"

    conducted by IRI, even if they did not fulfill

    accepted standards, partially achieved the sought-

    after impact."


Who knows what the IRI is doing in Egypt? But we know

what the US government has done there: supported a

brutal dictatorship for decades right up to the point

where mass protests made it clear that Washington could

not stop Mubarak's ouster by a real, popular,

democratic movement last year.


The IRI and NDI are core grantees of the National

Endowment for Democracy, an organization that conducts

activities "much of [which]" the "CIA used to fund

covertly", as the Washington Post reported when the

Endowment was being created in the early 1980s. These

organizations will sometimes support democracy, but

often do not, or are even against it. This is not

because they are inherently evil, but because of the

position of the United States in the world. The United

States government, more than any other in the world, is

running an empire. By their nature, empires are about

power and control over other people in distant lands.

These goals will generally conflict with many people's

aspirations for democracy and national self-determination.


Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Middle East,

where the US government's policy of collaboration with

Israel's denial of Palestinian national rights has put

it at odds with populations throughout the region. As a

result, Washington fears democracy in many countries

because it will inevitably lead to more governments

taking the side of the Palestinians, and opposing other

US ambitions in the region, such as its desire for

military bases and alliances. Even in Iraq, where

Washington brags about having toppled a dictatorship,

the people had to fight the occupying authorities for

the right to hold national elections, and then to kick

US troops out of the country.


This creates a vicious cycle in which hated and often

repressive governments are supportive of US foreign

policy, and these governments receive US support,

increasing regional animosity toward the United States.

In some cases, it also leads to terrorist attacks

against US institutions or citizens, which is then used

by our leaders to justify long or endless wars (for

example, Iraq and Afghanistan). A poll of Arab public

opinion (pdf) by the University of Maryland and Zogby

International, which included Egypt, asked respondents

to "name two countries that are the biggest threat to

you": 88% named the United States, and 77% named

Israel; only 9% chose Iran.


Another ugly side-effect of US government-sponsored

"democracy-promotion" is that it helps governments that

want to repress authentic, national, pro-democracy

movements. Most of the repressive governments in the

Middle East and North Africa have tried to delegitimize

their opponents with the taint of association with

Washington, in most cases falsely. In Egypt, before the

raids on foreign organizations, the government arrested

youth activists associated with the April 6th movement,

and other activists.


Here in Washington, there seems to be little awareness

that "pro-democracy" groups funded by the US government

might have a credibility problem in most of the world.

But this is true - even when these groups aren't

actively opposing democracy. Their funding would be a

good target for budget cuts.


    c 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its

    affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

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