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the curse of lowered expectations

by the stormy present Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 10:14:25 AM EST

Writing in The Daily Star of Lebanon, Michael Meyer-Resende of the Berlin-based group Democracy Reporting International draws an interesting comparison between the EU's responses to elections held in Morocco and Ukraine:

Why is the EU lenient on Arab Democracy?

Following Ukraine's parliamentary elections last year, the European Union praised the polls as being "mostly in line with international commitments." But the EU also registered concerns over low-quality voter lists and underlined "the need to further strengthen the electoral and constitutional process in order to consolidate the democratic process."

Three weeks before the elections, Brussels had "saluted" the Moroccan government and its people for holding "successful and transparent elections, in particular through the establishment of a new legal framework." No concerns were raised, which suggested that the EU perceived Morocco to be more democratic than Ukraine. But is it?

Morocco has made some progress in democratization, but is ruled by a king whose executive branch of power dominates political life, while in Ukraine all layers of political power are contested through elections. Morocco's voter lists are at least as faulty as Ukraine's. And while some 60 percent of voters went to the polls in Ukraine, three out of four Moroccans stayed away. So why does the EU paint such a rosy picture of elections in Morocco?

Why?  Meyer-Resende gives two main reasons:  realpolitik, and (though he doesn't say it this bluntly) ignorance.


So you'll have to read the column to get the details on the ignorance part, because I'm not going to go into it here.  He's sort of arguing that the EU just doesn't have the institutions in place to be able to get good information about what's going on in the Arab world.  I think that's a fairly lame excuse, but it does point toward a real problem, which is a rather shocking lack of comprehension in most so-called "Western" capitals of the reality on the ground in the Arab world.  (I am reminded of the EU official I met by chance in a coffee shop a year or two ago, who professed his shock and astonishment at how much of a police state and how very corrupt Egypt is... he just hadn't realized....)

But anyway, I digress.  Meyer-Resende goes on to make some very solid points:

Short of new institutional arrangements, there are other ways for the EU to become more focused when promoting democratization among its Arab partners. First of all, Brussels should dismiss the rhetoric of cultural relativism: All southern neighbors have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a legally binding United Nations document that contains the fundamental ingredients of a functioning democracy. Opinion polls show that Arabs support these values.

Secondly, the EU could make better use of reports by NGOs to assess and address democracy deficits in more detail. In Morocco the EU financed the Collectif Associatif to observe the parliamentary elections, but it ignored their findings, which were not all positive.

Finally, the most important difference between Europe's eastern and southern neighborhood is the role of political Islam in the Arab world. The EU needs to define a position on how to engage with Islamist parties. Currently its response to the rise of political Islam is ambiguous: Turkey's EU membership is being negotiated with a government led by the Islamist Justice and Development Party, but in Arab states Islamist parties are more often seen as threats, with few efforts to distinguish between moderates and extremists. Democracy promotion cannot be effective if there is no strategy for dealing with parties that are often the most powerful forces in Arab political oppositions.

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Of course, the EU aren't the only ones who're incoherent when it comes to political Islam....
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 10:15:34 AM EST
Arabs are brown: you can't expect real democracy from them. Ukranians are white, so they should be able to do proper democracy.

<bangs head off desk>

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 10:20:19 AM EST
Unfortunately that feels far too true.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 10:49:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What hides behind "ignorance" and "cultural relativism" is, even if not always consciously, just plain racism...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet
by Melanchthon on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 10:51:02 AM EST
I was just about to make a similar point.  The whole 'considering that they're Arabs, they're doing quite well' point of view then refuses to look at what is actually there that is still unacceptable.

So the corruption becomes hidden or viewed as part of the system that there would be no point trying to change.  

The lack of insight into the way democracy functions in Morocco isn't excusable, because there are plenty of organisations around who are trying to tell the rest of us what the situation is like.

Are officials afraid to touch it, with Islam being involved?

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 11:02:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The lack of insight into the way democracy functions in Morocco isn't excusable, because there are plenty of organisations around who are trying to tell the rest of us what the situation is like.

And there are plenty of Moroccans in Europe, especially in Brussels. You just have to talk to them...

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 11:23:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Talk to brown people? how can they ever have anything to tell us?


Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 12:23:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think your point about reduced expectations is correct. I am reminded of the essay you posted in your Sharia and human rights essay

He probably thinks his "tolerance" for Shariah is progressive in light of the Islamophobia that mars parts of Europe today. But it is a tolerance that condones only the most conservative options for Muslims. It is at best a form of the racism of lower expectations - the cheapest bargaining chip of liberal guilt..............

That said, I have often been shocked at the level of ignorance from British elected representatives about even British current events. They seem to simply live in a bubble where all information is filtered unless it is directly relevant to the "issue of the moment" and they have so little contact with the real world that they have next to no chance of discovering any other view apart from the permitted one. I'm sure something similar happens in Brussels, so the EU rep you met would be typical.

Equally, I think that, reduced expectations notwithsatnding, there is a certain trepidation that muslim countries have internal undemocratic pressures which mean that any democracy, however flawed, is better than applying pressure that may end up being couter-productive.

There is, for instance, a significant strand within islamist thought that democracy is incompatible with islam. Now, while that is untrue, without considerable pushback from religious authorities this view is being propagated to the potential electorate and is causing problems for the very idea of democracy in certain countries. Quite how the muslim brotherhood square this one I don't know.

Europeans are confused by the differing attitudes of muslims to political processes and, knowing only that mistakes cause offence, seek to do as little as possible.


keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 12:11:42 PM EST
My Sharia and human rights essay?  That one was In Wales, not me.

There is, for instance, a significant strand within islamist thought that democracy is incompatible with islam.

Uh, not terribly significant, no, not in terms of numbers or dominant schools of thought.  Most Muslims do in fact reject the Salafist school of thought on that, and on most other things.  In my experience, the people who think of Islam as incompatible with democracy tend not to be Muslims.

Quite how the muslim brotherhood square this one I don't know.

The Muslim Brotherhood says it is fully committed to democracy.  What we don't know is whether they mean it.

What we do know is this:  Despite being officially banned in Egypt (which raises significant barriers to electoral participation) and despite the fact that Egyptian elections are farcical at best, it has participated in every election since 1990.  (It boycotted in 1990 in protest against an unfair electoral system, but had been taking part in previous elections since the 1970s, when they renounced violence.)

Every election, there are waves of arrests of Brotherhood members; at the moment, there are more than 500 of them in detention because there's a municipal election in a less than six weeks.  Every election, the systemic barriers to their participation and success are raised still higher.  (In the Shura Council election last year, the repression and fraud were so complete that they didn't manage to win a single seat, despite having won 20 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament a year earlier.)  Every election, they keep participating.

The Brotherhood is aware that its legitimacy among the people derives in part from its commitment to the democratic process, flawed as it is here.  It is a tremendously diverse organization, with leaders that are moderate and those who are less so.  The regime is pressuring the Brotherhood in an effort to marginalize the moderates, because they need the so-called West to be afraid of the Islamists.  They need the Brotherhood to be a scarecrow.

Genuine democracy might indeed bring groups such as these to power.  Genuine democracy might also quite possibly remove them from power.  The expectations for adherence to genuine democracy should not change depending on the results.  One looks rather absurdly hypocritical when one demands that an Islamist party act like perfect democrats, when one is not willing to expect the same of the so-called "secular" parties.

Something the so-called "West" has never seemed to learn is that the steadfast support of fundamentally corrupt, repressive and undemocratic regimes only strengthens the resolve and popularity of the Islamist alternatives.  If they really want the so-called "secularists" to triumph, they'd be better off backing the Islamists.

Would I want to live in a country run by the Muslim Brotherhood?  No, probably not, at least not if I didn't have a foreign passport that would allow me to leave whenever I wanted.  But if the democratic system were working properly here, I really do believe that they amount of super-conservatism that their most conservative leaders would be able to impose here would be limited -- limited by civil society, limited by popular lack of desire for such sweeping changes.  But nobody has ever encouraged the development or strengthening of such a system here, so yes, the "spectre" of "a Brotherhood government" feels somewhat more intimidating.

Again, this is why supporting institutions and the democratic system should be the goal, rather than supporting parties or individual leaders who are allegedly ideologically aligned to us....

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 04:01:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd certainly agree that our willingness to support for "despots" and other sundry abusive governments encourages the very elements we'd prefer didn't exist. But then again, like your suggestion that moderate islamic groups are marginalised to increase the scarecrow effect of the more extreme elements of the mulsim brotherhood, one only has to look at Israel where the IDF generally target those who might be acceptable to encourage the sense of militant outrage amongst palestinians. If you eliminate anyone who will negotiate, you don't seem so intransigent by later refusing to meet those who won't.

In my experience, the people who think of Islam as incompatible with democracy tend not to be Muslims.

I'm sure their view is that those who don't agree with them cannot be muslims. It's the nature of religious belief to exclude any who might disagree and become "holier than thou".


keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 08:10:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm sure their view is that those who don't agree with them cannot be muslims.

I'm not sure who "they" are that you're referring to.  The Salafis?  Yes, we have established that they think basically nobody is really Muslim except them, but they are also very decidedly a minority.  I think you're misunderstanding my point, which is that the people I most often hear saying things about Islam being incompatible with democracy are Islam-bashers and Islamophobes.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 11:08:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you saying that most muslims support human rights??? You little surrender monkey living in a bubble.. which does not accept the fact hat..w ell they are brown and underhuman...

Typical ET

great :)

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 01:29:57 PM EST
One other possible reason could be that Ukraine is a potential future member, however distant that possibility is. Morocco is not.
by Deni on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 01:45:28 PM EST
does morocco even want to be part of the EU?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 03:23:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Morocco applied for EU membership in the 1980s but was rejected on the grounds that... uh, it's not in Europe.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 04:02:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You don't have to be in Europe to be in the EU.  I disctinctly remember learning this on ET.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 04:10:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a strain within European thought that would include Africa above the Sahara within the natural European region.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 04:21:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The question is whether you want to include the Mediterranean basin or not.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 04:23:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Theres a strain in North African thought who feel closer to Europe than the rest of their continent.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 04:25:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Morocco is, in fact not part of the African Union, ostensibly over Western Sahara.

Wikipedia: African Union

The only African state that is not a member of the African Union is Morocco, which left the AU's predecessor, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), in 1984, when many of the other member states supported the Sahrawi nationalist Polisario Front's Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.[4][5] Morocco's ally, Zaire, similarly opposed the OAU's admission of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and the Mobutu regime boycotted the organisation from 1984 to 1986.[6] Some countries have since retracted their support for the Sahrawi Republic.[7]


We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 04:28:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I dunno about ostensibly, that is really the reason.  Morocco and the Sahrawis are not members of any of the same multilateral organizations -- Morocco is in the Arab League and the SADR is not, the Sahrawis are in the AU and Morocco is not, Morocco is in the UN and the Sahrawis are not, etc.

It led to a fair amount of diplomatic tension between South Africa and Morocco when the Pan-African Parliament became based in South Africa; because the SADR is a member of the AU and has representatives in the PAP, South Africa felt that it finally had to carry through on a longstanding promise to formally diplomatically recognize the SADR.  Mandela had made this promise during the anti-apartheid struggle, when the ANC allied itself with the Polisario.  (The ANC was allied with many groups involved in armed struggle; the thinking at the time was that the ANC couldn't afford to be choosy about its friends, and needed solidarity with other groups it considered fellow liberation movements, whether they were ideologically aligned or not.  These included the PLO, the IRA and the Tamil Tigers, all of whom the ANC-led government retains some degree of ties with to this day.)  So anyway, it was a nice enough promise when the ANC was in exile or opposition, but it became diplomatically inconvenient once the party came to power, so the SA gov't dragged its feet on recognizing the SADR because they didn't want to piss of Morocco.  But when the PAP came to town, they had to pony up.  (The alternative would have been allowing the Pan-African Parliament to be based in Libya, which doesn't actually have elections or any form of representative democracy, not even a flawed one....)

/tangent

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 04:43:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Given that migration is a poisonous issue within the EU, stretching the border into the Sahara would be an act of folly.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Feb 27th, 2008 at 08:13:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, actually, according to the Lisbon Treaty,
Article 49

Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union.

And
Article 2

The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.



We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Feb 26th, 2008 at 04:22:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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