Thursday, February 17, 2005

Democracy-lite

The Foreign Policy Centre bills itself as “The European Think Tank with a Global Outlook”. To most of us it is the ├╝ber-Blairite alternative to the ordinarily establishment and FCO-minded Chatham House. What sort of relations the Foreign Policy Centre has with the other seriously Blairite, formerly perestroika Europhile, now cheer-leader Centre for European Reform is a subject that could easily lend itself to a doctoral thesis or two.

Anyway, the Foreign Policy Centre has a new programme, called Civility, which has the following blurb on the website:
“Civility is a programme of research, events and publications aimed at informing Western strategies for political reform in the Greater Middle East. Underpinning its activities is the belief that meaningful reform in the region can only come from a functioning civil society supported by the values of the rule of law and essential freedoms of speech, information, publication and association. Civility seeks to engage decision-makers in an understanding of the potential development of civil society in the Middle East through the following three processes:

· Building a network of reform-minded individuals who can support the programme's aims

· Mapping out available research on political reform and civil society in the region and commissioning new projects and polls to fill the gaps in the current body of literature

· Developing clear and practicable policy recommendations for leaders and policymakers”
Vague this may be but it does make a certain amount of sense. But only a certain amount, since in its incredibly civil way it refuses to engage with the problem of extremely oppressive regimes, many of whom are also seriously anti-Western.

This is particularly interesting, as the chairman of the programme has a good deal to say about less than totally democratic regimes such as that of Pakistan, which is an American ally.

In an article in yesterday’s Financial Times Mr Pirouz did have the grace to acknowledge that the spectacle of people streaming to vote in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestine was heartening. He even implied, but perish the thought that we should say so out loud, that it was all made possible by American support (with its allies, though Mr Pirouz does not mention that).
“When given the chance, the peoples of the Middle East are eager to prove wrong those arguing that Islam and democracy are incompatible and to fulfil their aspirations to freedom and self-rule.”
But, he adds
“Western nations have so far dismally failed to support them. US-led coalitions resorted to regime change to deal with threatening governments in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they are quiet on, and even acquiescent to, authoritarianism and corruption in the rest of the region.”
Well, depends on which Western nations we are talking about, Mr Pirouz. American, British, Australian, Polish, Danish and various other soldiers shed their blood to ensure that some of the elections took place. Other Western countries, ahem, well, how shall I put it? – sat on the sidelines and grizzled.

After a certain amount of grumbling about the hand of friendship being extended to Pervez Musharraf, Mr Pirouz waxes eloquent about the wonders of the Turkish political system – also secular Muslim but far more enlightened and democratic. (He might have some trouble explaining this to some opponents of Turkey’s membership of the EU but one must assume he will be able to deal with that.)

Actually, Mr Pirouz’s main piece of evidence in favour of Turkey’s democratic credentials is the fact that
“The decision of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, to stand firm against US pressure for access rights in the invasion, meanwhile, was a setback for Washington but won Mr Erdogan the respect of voters and strengthened the democratic consensus in Turkey.”
So what does Mr Pirouz, who may well be Turkish himself, suggest that the West can do, assuming it comes to some kind of understanding on the subject? Unsurprisingly, he does not go into details, such as stop supporting terrorists, since clearly, shock, horror, the non-American West would never do such a thing.

No suggestion of not engaging in dodgy scandals like the one enveloping the food-for-oil scheme or of not selling arms to very dodgy dictators. Don’t bother me with details.

Since the EU’s incentive of Turkey’s membership (rather a dubious offer and beset by many ifs and buts) has had such a wondrous effect in that country, the EU should do the same with other Middle Eastern countries.
“The EU should offer similar incentives for change in Syria, Egypt and Lebanon. Middle Eastern accession to the EU is not a serious proposal but Europe could initiate a new club of reform-minded states, with a clear institutional identity and attractive economic benefits - a sort of "EU-lite".”
Precisely, what kind of possibility does Mr Pirouz perceive in Syria or Lebanon (the two may be treated as one with the first controlling the second)? And how is this extraordinary structure to be achieved?

Well, it’s that “soft power” again.
“Membership of the club must first offer tangible incentives - and not just to pliant leaders - in return for political change. Bringing together the benefits offered to North African and Middle Eastern states under the EU's Barcelona process would achieve this. Their aid, trade and travel advantages would give significant leverage. Europe donates some Euros 1bn (Dollars 1.3bn) a year to the Middle East and North Africa in non-military aid alone and another Euros 2bn in soft loans.”
Well, now that you mention it, what has happened to all that money? Has it encouraged any of the North African and Middle Eastern states to indulge in freedom and democracy? Not that you would notice. Certainly, not nearly as much as Afghanistan and Iraq so far.

The Barcelona process, let us recall, has not prevented the EU from championing Chairman Yasser Arafat, the single biggest obstacle to peace and freedom in the Middle East. Neither did it prevent various member states and its politicians from supporting the bloodthirsty kleptocracy of Saddam Hussein.

Mr Pirouz’s conclusion is reasonable enough:
“Committing to democratic governance means accepting that there is no single model for democracy and that Islamic groups can become positive forces in a healthy democratic process. If the EU is serious about becoming the foremost global champion of democracy, it must engage with the peoples and leaders of the Middle East, to reverse the decades-long failure to harness their aspirations to democracy and justice.”
But little about the EU’s foreign policy, in so far as it exists, gives one any kind of assurance that it is or would like to be the “foremost global champion of democracy”. Au contraire. Its track-record on supporting terrorists and tyrants of all persuasion (but particularly those who claim to be left-wing and, especially, anti-American) speaks for itself.

But then what can one expect from an organization whose response to a perceived “democratic deficit” was to create a detailed 300-plus page long constitution that will turn the deficit into a permanent and endemic shortage?

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