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.