From elections in Palestine, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia to popular demonstrations in Lebanon, events across the Middle East have provoked a lively discussion on the political future of the region. While some are confidently proclaiming the dawning of new era of democracy in the Middle East, others are far more cautious and skeptical in their predictions. Newspapers from across the globe are weighing in on both sides of the debate:
"The connection between the invasion of Iraq and the faltering steps towards democracy in parts of the region is tenuous at best… The most striking moves towards democracy in the region, however, have been unrelated to Iraq. They either originated in local and unforeseen events – the death of Yasser Arafat, the assassination of Rafik Hariri – or reflected earlier trends – the very partial extension of the franchise in Saudi Arabia; Libya's retreat from nuclear weapons."
Comment, The Independent, March 8, 2005
"In the same way that Arabs resent America not for what it is but for its policies, they do notice and react when those policies start to change.… But they also know from the experience of 60 years that, in the interest of regional stability and cheap oil, the US's invariable default decision in the Middle East has been to shore up tyranny and defend the status quo. If that has really changed, the question is whether the US can live with the results. Democracy is untidy anywhere, but will be very messy in the Arab world."
Editorial, The Financial Times, March 5, 2005
"Egyptian citizens seem finally to be obtaining the kind of political equality enjoyed by many other people in the world.… It will be very difficult in this short space of time for parties and candidates to recruit staff, organize and launch their campaigns and obtain the necessary funding. If they fail proponents of the status quo – and there are quite a few out there who are nervous at the prospect of multi-candidate elections – will be able to say that they did what they could to establish democracy but the society they were dealing with was simply not mature enough to take up the challenge."
Gamil Matar, Al-Ahram, March 8, 2005
"Winds of change are blowing though the region: Elections in Iraq, a successful rebellion against the old establishment in the Palestinian Parliament, constitutional changes on the cards in Egypt and now people power in Lebanon. Until a few weeks ago, change was seen as driven from outside, by the Americans. Those who still think that are clearly wrong. The Americans may have done some of the initial driving but it is now being driven from within. The Middle East is ready for change and wants a change but not only between Palestinian and Israeli."
Editorial, Arab News, March 2, 2005
"Whether Lebanon's internal differences will render it ungovernable again, plunging it into civil war remains to be seen.… One disturbing aspect of the 'Cedars Revolution' is that, unlike other recent 'people power' revolutions, in Serbia, Georgia or Ukraine, there is no generally accepted charismatic leader with the authority to take control of the situation. The absence of a single figurehead could easily allow dangerous divisions to emerge."
Viewpoint, The Gulf Times, March 3, 2005
"Nevertheless, it appears that Israel will have a hard time adjusting to a democratic Arab world, in which public opinion rather than centralized rulers determine policy. At a lecture in Tel Aviv last week, eminent Israeli political scientist Prof. Yehezkel Dror described the Israeli establishment's viewpoint. "We're all for democracy, but let us imagine democracy in Egypt or Jordan. Will it strengthen their peace with Israel?"
Aluf Benn, Haaretz, March 4, 2005
"If elections were held today in the countries in the region, radical Islamists would be voted into power almost everywhere. The Arab societies are under-developed, conservative, characterized by clan relations and ethnically divided. There is simply no basis for a functioning democracy."
Editorial, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, March 2, 2005
"Hizbullah must be accorded an important place in the process of national dialogue and rebuilding not so much because it is a powerful force … that was capable of making the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon too costly for Israel, but because it is the major sociopolitical organization in Lebanon. Quite simply, Hizbullah is not a problem: It is part of Lebanon's solution."
Editorial, The Daily Star, March 7, 2005
"At this current high point, democrats across the region are looking to the United States to deliver on its promise of peace. We need no intervention on the front of democracy. Not only does simple logic tell us that democracy cannot be imposed, but we have proven that we are capable of creating it on our own. However, what we do need are the right conditions in which democracy can flourish, and this is something the U.S. can help us forge. America must play a crucial role in promoting democracy in the region by being a fair and just broker for peace."
Editorial, The Daily Star, March 2, 2005