Democratic thinking

Articles on democracy in the independent online media

January 29, 2006

Isreali Insider on Hamas victory

Following their resounding election victory, the Islamic militants of Hamas met the question of whether they will change their stripes with a loud "no:" no recognition of Israel, no negotiations, no renunciation of terror.

But the world still holds out hope that Israeli and international pressure can make them change. At stake is the future of Mideast peacemaking, billions of dollars in aid, and the Palestinians' relationship with Israel and the rest of the world.

Hamas' victory - winning 76 of 132 parliament seats in Wednesday's election - has created a dizzying power shift in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, overturning certitudes and highlighting the failure by Palestinian leaders, Israel and the world to ease growing desperation in the Palestinian territories.

Weekend violence between Hamas and Palestinian policemen, and angry demonstrations by disgruntled gunmen fearing the loss of jobs and income after the Hamas win, has raised the specter of widespread civil strife in the territories.

After a brutal five-year campaign by Israel to destroy Hamas and assassinate its top leaders, the organization emerged stronger than ever, poised now to take over the Palestinian Authority.

The U.S. has pushed for democracy in the Middle East, hoping to promote moderation and head off more 9/11-style attacks, but, as in recent votes in Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon, a clean and fair election has empowered Islamic extremists in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.

Israel and the international community have repeatedly demanded that the Palestinian government disarm militias, but now that the main militia appears to have become the government, no one knows what will happen to its weapons.

Hamas' win caught everyone, including the organization itself, off guard.

Now both Hamas and the international community face agonizing dilemmas. Hamas leaders say they won't renounce their violent ideology, but the consequences of failing to do so are likely to be catastrophic: loss of life-sustaining aid, international isolation and a profound setback to their statehood aspirations.

The United States and many European countries say they'll have nothing to do with a Hamas government, but a sharp cutoff in aid and an overly zealous stance could steer the Palestinians further away from moderation at an extremely delicate moment.

An interview with an up-and-coming young Hamas leader in a dusty Gaza Strip field reveals how the organization's slant could shift.

Mushir al-Masri said renouncing the "armed struggle" and negotiating with Israel are "not on Hamas' agenda" because a decade of talking won the Palestinians nothing.

"We cannot waste 10 more years when the last 10 years failed to realize even the minimum amount of Palestinian hopes," he said.

But when an aide tried to put a green Hamas sash over al-Masri's shoulder before a TV interview, the 29-year-old newly elected lawmaker shooed him away. "You should bring me the Palestinian flag," he said, reflecting his movement's stated desire to represent all Palestinians.

By all accounts, Palestinians didn't choose Hamas because they reject peace talks with Israel but rather because they were fed up with graft in the ruling Fatah Party. Hamas candidates ran on a platform of clean government, largely de-emphasizing their militant credentials.

Samih al-Hattab, a 32-year-old policeman in Gaza City, said he voted for Hamas because "everyone wants change," but said he expected the group to soften its stances once in power.

"A politician has to be seasoned and to adapt to the situation he's under," he said, standing outside a mosque where a cleric had just finished a sermon urging Hamas not to follow the corrupt ways of Fatah.

Hamas leaders are aware of their dilemma. Since the election, they have struggled to persuade Fatah to join them in a coalition - hoping to avoid having to deal with Israel and the West. But Fatah has so far rejected the offer.

Hamas victory celebrations have been decidedly muted, another indication the group seeks to handle the situation delicately.

Despite that, tensions are boiling on the streets. Clashes in Gaza between Hamas gunmen and Palestinian police on Friday and Saturday wounded four officers and one Hamas militant.

And on Saturday, thousands of angry Fatah activists, led by masked gunmen firing wildly in the air, marched through the streets of several West Bank cities demanding the resignation of party leaders following Fatah's defeat.

The growing unrest, combined with the complexities of running a government and world pressure for it to change its ways, pose daunting challenges to Hamas, which has little experience in governance.

More details.

The problem with democracy

And now, horror of horrors, the Palestinians have elected the wrong party to power. They were supposed to have given their support to the friendly, pro-Western, corrupt, absolutely pro-American Fatah, which had promised to "control" them, rather than to Hamas, which said they would represent them. And, bingo, they have chosen the wrong party again.

Result: 76 out of 132 seats. That just about does it. God damn that democracy. What are we to do with people who don't vote the way they should?

Way back in the 1930s, the British would lock up the Egyptians who turned against the government of King Farouk. Thus they began to set the structure of anti-democratic governance that was to follow. The French imprisoned the Lebanese government which demanded the same. Then the French left Lebanon. But we have always expected the Arab governments to do what they were told.

So today, we are expecting the Syrians to behave, the Iranians to kowtow to our nuclear desires (though they have done nothing illegal), and the North Koreans to surrender their weapons (though they actually do have them, and therefore cannot be attacked).

Now let the burdens of power lie heavy on the shoulders of the party. Now let the responsibilities of people lie upon them. We British would never talk to the IRA, or to Eoka, or to the Mao Mao. But in due course, Gerry Adams, Archbishop Makarios and Jomo Kenyatta came to take tea with the Queen. The Americans would never speak to their enemies in North Vietnam. But they did. In Paris.

No, al-Qa'ida will not do that. But the Iraqi leaders of the insurgency in Mesopotamia will. They talked to the British in 1920, and they will talk to the Americans in 2006.

Back in 1983, Hamas talked to the Israelis. They spoke directly to them about the spread of mosques and religious teaching. The Israeli army boasted about this on the front page of the Jerusalem Post. At that time, it looked like the PLO was not going to abide by the Oslo resolutions. There seemed nothing wrong, therefore, with continuing talks with Hamas. So how come talks with Hamas now seem so impossible?
Not long after the Hamas leadership had been hurled into southern Lebanon, a leading member of its organisation heard me say that I was en route to Israel.

"You'd better call Shimon Peres," he told me. "Here's his home number."

The phone number was correct. Here was proof that members of the hierarchy of the most extremist movements among the Palestinians were talking to senior Israeli politicians.

The Israelis know well the Hamas leadership. And the Hamas leadership know well the Israelis. There is no point in journalists like us suggesting otherwise. Our enemies invariably turn out to be our greatest friends, and our friends turn out, sadly, to be our enemies.
A terrible equation - except that we must understand our fathers' history. My father, who was a soldier in the First World War, bequeathed to me a map in which the British and French ruled the Middle East. The Americans have tried, vainly, to rule that map since the Second World War. They have all failed. And it remains our curse to rule it since.

How terrible it is to speak with those who have killed our sons. How unspeakable it is to converse with those who have our brothers' blood on their hands. No doubt that is how Americans who believed in independence felt about the Englishmen who fired upon them.

Full article

January 28, 2006

Democracy Under Fire in the Middle East

January 27, 2006

Hamas election victory for democracy

The Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu) Thursday praised the conduct of the Palestinian elections and suggested that if it did emerge that Hamas have won as reported, it would be a huge blow to the US and the Zionist regime.

Caabu director Chris Doyle told IRNA that the political lobby group wanted to emphasize the elections were "hugely successful" as a democratic exercise.

"It was a victory for democracy. It was the first time rival parties participated in free and fair elections and showed how Palestinians wanted to run their own affairs," Doyle told IRNA.

"At the same time, it was a savage and blistering indictment of US and Israeli policies for failing to bring a resolution in the occupied territories," he said.

The Caabu director said that on the assumption of the reported historic victory by Hamas, "it showed that the Palestinians were fed up with broken promises."
The campaign group, which is the old and largest organization of its type in Europe, was set up in 1967 to promote "an enlightened and positive approach to Arab-British relations in Government, Parliament, the Media, education and amongst the wider public."
Its all-party executive committee, jointly chaired by three MPs, regularly express sympathy for the aspirations, achievements and rights of the Arab peoples, especially the Palestinians.

More details.

January 26, 2006

Palestinian Democracy and Iran

The electoral victory handed to Hamas by the Palestinian voters will serve to isolate the Palestinian Territories from the West and its resources while likely transforming it into a de facto annex of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Without US and (potentially) European fiscal support, effectively amounting to cash donations, a rapid domestic collapse of a resource-anemic Hamas-run Palestinian Authority can only be averted (or forestalled) by an influx of funding from another source.

Speaking in Davos, Switzerland, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered no nuance in her direct, matter-of-fact response to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian polls.

“As we have said, you cannot have one foot in politics and the other in terror. Our position on Hamas has therefore not changed.”

Precisely. The US position on Hamas continues to be to correctly recognize them as a terrorist organization coupled with a standing commitment to cut of US fiscal support and aid to any PA government run by Hamas.

While Hamas was elected in a rejection of al-Fatah, they will be expected to provide solutions for domestic Palestinian problems including but not limited to unemployment and public sanitation. But it will be nearly impossible to successfully tackle such domestic problems with even fewer resources than Fatah had available as the US cuts off PA funding. Even EU leaders are now reconsidering their 350 million Euros in annual payments to the PA, and others are likely to follow.

The Palestinian people have rejected the corrupt Fatah, but were forced to vote into power an aggressive terrorist organization, and in so doing, leaping from the pan and into the fire. It is simply a matter of time before this realization becomes stridently evident to the Palestinian people.

Full article.

January 24, 2006

Police tear gas pro-democracy rally

Opposition political parties in Nepal have called a general strike, set for Thursday of this week, to protest against direct rule by King Gyanendra.

The strike is timed to coincide with the deadline for nominations for sham elections called by the king. A coalition of seven opposition parties have called for a boycott of these elections and a restoration of “total democracy”.

The parties also want to see the release of hundreds of political activists held by the government.

Dozens more activists were arrested last Saturday when protesters clashed with police for almost three hours in the capital, Kathmandu.

Some 264 demonstrators were detained, of whom 213 were later freed.

King Gyanendra first seized power in October 2002, following 12 years of limited democracy.

Full article.

January 23, 2006

Nigeria: A military or civilian democracy?

At pertinent points in the democratic life of Nigeria, the type of democracy the people seem to be practising will be brought to the fore. The current political confusion in Oyo State provides one such benchmark. With calls being made to the President to restore Ladoja to power, you wonder if such calls should be made. Under military rule, with a dictator at the helm, yes, such calls are justified.

However, if what is intended in Nigeria is a civilian democracy, then the court system should be the right direction to head to with the Supreme Court as the final destination. As with previous military dictatorships too much authority is being given to this President, who in both rhetoric and action should be made to understand that he himself is not above the law.

More here.

January 21, 2006

Corrupting Power of Earmarks

Fueled by unprecedented political scandals, both political parties in both the House and Senate have ushered in the year with a debate over lobbying reform. American's cynicism regarding Congress in general has reached new highs. Clearly, Congress must make systemic changes to help restore the public's trust and assure the American people that their elected representatives are here in Washington, DC to represent them and the best interests of the country, not campaign contributors and cronies. If done correctly, lobbying and legislative reforms can help eliminate the culture of waste and pork barreling in Congress.

Lobby disclosure rules must be tightened and enforced, gift rules strengthened, the revolving door slowed, and pay-to-play ended. For many lobbyists, it seems the disclosure forms are little more than an inconvenience. Virtually no information about actual lobbying activities, the particular issue, amendment, or legislation in question; the members contacted; or the lobbying tactics employed, is ever provided. Rules against lobbying former colleagues are routinely skirted, so these rules need to be made tougher and enforcement taken more seriously. Two immediate solutions are to broaden the definition of 'former colleagues' and lengthen the amount of time former members are banned from lobbying.

TCS does support tougher rules regarding gifts from lobbyists, but we don't agree with the ban on privately funded travel for educational trips. There are significant benefits of an educated Congress, and we are concerned that if proposed bans are enacted, taxpayers will be forced to foot the bill for these trips in the future. Increased documentation and disclosure of and limitations on these trips will likely make them less subject to abuse. The details of every educational trip a member takes should be publicly available through a system of real-time, transparent, and accessible disclosure. The source, extent, and full costs of the trips should be documented, and members should pay for spousal travel out of their own pockets and certify that the trips meet all congressional guidelines.

More from The Progress report.

January 20, 2006

Google's Non-Evil Stance on Democracy

Google's refusal to hand over aggregate search information to the Bush administration -- while the other major engines reportedly have -- is zinging through the blogosphere.

Danny's got a great take on it from the privacy and search perspectives, but there's a marketing angle here, too.

MSN and Yahoo! are already suffering a consumer backlash resulting from their decisions to turn over information on Chinese bloggers to the authorities. There have been calls for boycotts of both companies, first in the blogosphere, now in mainstream media.

By taking the high road, Google's not only walking the walk insofar as it's "don't be evil" corporate motto is concerned, it's also garnering some serious goodwill as its competitors' reputations further tarnish insofar as democracy and human rights are concerned.

January 15, 2006

TV sting operations in India

It is a measure of the growing perversion of public taste that people actually seem to want more and more sting operations to be aired on TV. During the last week at least a dozen ordinary people have asked me when the Amar Singh tapes would be finally broadcast, which channel is most likely to do so, and if I have any idea about their contents. The thrust of the queries does not relate to the alleged political or business conversations that the Samajwadi leader has apparently had on the phone with a number of people. Public interest is focused only on what 10 Janpath acolyte Ambika Soni distastefully calls "Operation Laila". TV channels have whetted people's libidinous appetite to such an extent that I perceive a sense of frustration that saucy stuff has not been telecast for a few weeks now. Instead of a sense of outrage at the unauthorized tapping of a politician's phone people appear eager for some titillation.

I have commented earlier on the undesirability of airing sting operations without due authorisation or establishing their relevance to the public interest. Now a new dimension has been added on account of the wanton tapping of telephones. The argument that every Government does it is entirely unacceptable. A multitude of wrongs do not make a right. Telephone tapping is permitted under strict rules. Only in situations that involve national security, crime or drug-related matters can tapping be authorised by persons empowered to do so. Fixing political opponents does not rank among the list of situations that permit telephone tapping. Sadly, everybody has become so brazen about it that the impact such disclosures used to have in the past - in the Moily tapes scandal for instance - does not happen any more.

Let us look at the sequence of events. Amar Singh is informed by a Reliance Infocomm employee about the regular tapping of his phone. He complains to the police. An FIR is lodged and a few token arrests are made. No less a person that Delhi's Police Commissioner admits that influential people are behind the operation. Incidentally, the Commissioner, Dr KK Paul, had once caused a sensation in the match-fixing scandal by trapping South African cricketers including their former captain, Hansie Cronje, now deceased, through this very method. One faceless tapper, Bhupender, is arrested. This is followed by the arrest of one Dr Anurag. What is his background? Apparently, the man who qualified to be a medical practitioner later emerged as one of India's finest internet hackers. According to sources, the investigating agencies often relied on his hacking skills to crack crime syndicates. What does that suggest? Clearly, Dr Anurag was no stranger to the security agencies.

More here.

January 11, 2006

Canada to compensate abused indigenous people

In late 2005, Canada announced that it was to award a cash settlement of 2bn US dollars (1bn UK pounds) to the estimated 80,000 indigenous peoples of Canada, who were forced to attend residential schools as children.

National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine said that this was "the single most disgraceful, harmful and racist act" committed in Canadian history.

The average age of the students is now 60 years old. In a bid to prepare indigenous children for white society, many were taken from their families and sent to church schools, and forbidden to speak their own language says a report on the UK-based Guardian newspaper website on 3 January.

It is reported that many of the students were subjected to mental and physical cruelties, including sexual abuse. Fontaine was one of the first indigenous leaders to admit, a decade ago, that he had been sexually and physically assaulted at his school. Back then he was quoted to have said: "Everything we learned about ourselves and our parents was negative...We were convinced the only way we were going to survive was to become like they were. The results are still with us today."

WanabeHuman reports.

January 07, 2006

Americans for democracy?

So it is with the stunning revelation that the White House has ordered the illegal, warrantless wiretapping of American citizens in brazen defiance of federal law and the U.S. Constitution.
If allowed to stand, Bush's actions will have taken the United States a long way down the road to military dictatorship. Indeed, that's essentially what his legalistic enablers, starting with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Vice President Cheney, argue: that in wartime, the commander in chief can take any action he deems appropriate to protect the nation - bypassing Congress and the courts to assert the primacy of the presidency until declaring victory in the "war on terror."
As terrorism is not an enemy, but a tactic - a vile, cowardly tactic, but, by definition, not subject to being defeated - the metaphorical war against it could last indefinitely. And as long as it lasts, the commander in chief rules by fiat. Our constitutional rights exist at his sufferance.

If the president, any president, can unilaterally declare the Fourth Amendment (forbidding unreasonable search and seizure) null and void, why not the First Amendment protecting a free press? Why not the Second Amendment? We can't let terrorists have guns, can we?
Far-fetched? Today, maybe. Tomorrow, maybe not. This drugstore cowboy won't be president forever, you know. Anyway, I take it to be roughly those things Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Vietnam war veteran, meant when he emphasized that: "I took an oath of office to the Constitution. I didn't take an oath of office to my party or to my president."

Full article.