Learning Democracy!

Many analysts and regional experts continue to assert that democracy in our region can only come in the aftermath of a long and well-planned and managed reform process and that for this reason we should really work to alleviate the various external pressures exerted on the various regimes in the region to give them more time to implement the needed reforms.


If only this were true! If only our battle were once again a battle against foreign aggression and imperialism, our choices would have been so much more simple and clear. But, unfortunately, our reality is much more complex than we would like to admit. And after so many decades of wasted independence, we really have to admit that our main problems seem to lie deep within us, and we should not, therefore, be shocked that the main battlefield is here in our soul, in our land, in our region (with some inevitable spillovers of course, after all the world is growing smaller and interconnected).

No, we are not going to be so lucky as to learn democracy on the basis of well-thought out reform process. But then, no other people on earth have been so lucky. Democracy has always come as a result of haphazard experimentations and a long period of struggle, anguish and turmoil. People have always fought for freedom as a whole package but only managed to appreciate it in bits and pieces. That is, to this very day, even the freest of the free are still learning what freedom really is, and what these values they claim to adore and abide by really mean. Freedom is a learning process, not a package deal. So is democracy. Indeed, and just as freedom became synonymous with independence throughout the preceding century, today, it is synonymous with democracy.

No, democracy is not going to flourish in our region soon, but democratization, that is, the process, the struggle, the fight, the learning experience through which democracy is understood, appreciated and worked out, begin now. Yes, we are going to stumble along on the way to freedom and democracy just like everybody else did before. For, contrary to what we would like to think of ourselves, we are neither smarter nor wiser, nor better-guided than anybody else.

We can plan things of course, we have to plan things, we cannot cede the entire initiative to life’s forces. But, we also have to make contingency plans, and even more contingency plans, because, we really need to understand that things will never turn out as initially planned, and for this, we will always be required to adapt, adjust and come up with new plans, until some haphazard amalgamation produces something that is more likely better than we have ever planned or could have planned – thus giving us simultaneously much to gripe about, and yet much of what we want as well.

16 thoughts on “Learning Democracy!

  1. Ammar, There is room for improvement in any democratic society that has evr existed. In that sense you are right, democracy is a process and real democracy is a goal that is never achieved. Nonetheless the democratic experiment will not get started without some prerequisites. No one knows what are the exact conditions that are needed for democracy to get started and to thrive or even what events set off the journey. In general terms ,however, one can see the need for a different mind set. different mind set among citizens. The populace needs to start valuing liberty, freedom and human dignity. Are we there yet?

  2. Well, Ghassan, I don’t know, my mind tells me one thing, my heart another. We can only find out by trying, I guess, again and again.

  3. Assuming that option “A” is to take five years to slowly prepare our society for its first Democratic exercise. Option “B” is to shorten the trip along the road to democracy.What is the price you feel Syria will likely pay in exchange for option “B”? .. how do you see the process started in this case?

  4. I don’t think either A or B will come into play while the Assads are still in power. In fact, their continued presence is more likely to pave the way for anarchy than democracy, the longer they stay in power, the longer the period of anarchy that is going to separate us from the true beginning of the democratic experimentations. I am not saying that we cannot learn from anarchy though, but for the sake of everyone I know in Syria, I just hope it will be short. Be that as it may, I almost believe that a period of mayhem and anarchy is “inevitable.” I say almost, because I don’t want to be fatalistic. I continue to hope for a miracle, no matter how un-heretical this may sound.

  5. What is Egypt applying? Option A or B or Z.We don’t know many things. But we do know that what’s happening in Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Palestine (and even Lebanon) etc… ain’t gonna do it.

  6. Russia and Iraq both suggest that the end of a dictatorship will be followed by a period of anarchy, or at least confusion. One reason is that under the dictatorship, thinking and talking are crimes just like robbery and kidnapping – so when the lid is taken off, people think that all crimes are now permitted, both the minor ones like robbery and the serious ones like making a joke about the dictator.

  7. Honestly?you stated Freedom is a learning process, not a package deal. So is democracy. Indeed, and just as freedom became synonymous with independence throughout the preceding century, today, it is synonymous with democracy.No, democracy is not going to flourish in our region soon, but democratization, that is, the process, the struggle, the fight, the learning experience through which democracy is understood, appreciated and worked out, begin now. Yes, we are going to stumble along on the way to freedom and democracy just like everybody else did before.The truth? It will seem like nonsense to you but..Can Gays & Jews own land? Vote? Not be murdered?Can these people LEAVE and comback with out the state threatening them? Can ARABS/MOLSEMS allow jews to hold power in any arab country? do you advocate for the right of return for the JEWS throw out in 1948 of the arab countries?Democracy is NOT MAJORITY RULEDemocracy HAS to allow all citizens the right not to have their throats slit while eatting pizza, might i suggest it AINT “now that we have driven out all we disagree with we can vote” attitudeLook at Israel, it aint perfect, but ARABs are citizens of the state, own land, pay and receive taxes. I suggest the real solution is real equality, when a JEW is allowed to OWN land in Arabia (again, since they owned land there BEFORE Islam was) When you allow JEWS the freedom of equality then and then will you begin to embrace “democracy”, but i bet, you and others will find this “zionist bias” and quite unfair. How dare Jews demand equality…But all countries that murder and destroy their jews gets destroyed, maybe this is the result of islam/the arab world destroying their jewish populations, making them 2nd class citizens..\karma is a bitch…

  8. Pork Rinds, I don’t understand how your rant relates in anyway to the points I made. But you seem to think that I would have a problem with Jews being treated as equal citizens in Arab countries, or granted the right of return to their original homes in Arab countries. Frankly, I don’t know where you got this idea. The project that got me in trouble with my government was all about dialogue between the region’s various ethnic and religious groups paving the way to a system of majority rule and minority rights. Moreover, as a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, I don’t just work directly with Jews, but with Israelis as well. As such, my views on Jews, Zionists, and Israelis are pretty much different than the “traditional” ones held by many Arabs and Muslims. I hope you make a note of that for future reference. On a related note, you have made several comments on previous posts in which you advocated the killing of “bad guys” in the Syrian regime, while I am not a fan of the Syria regime, let me just say that I don’t advocate murder and killing, and I don’t like people to use my site to advocate murder, even if the intended victims are corrupt and authoritarian officials. So, please do refrain from making such references on my site in the future. But, by all means, you are more than welcome to continue commenting on my posts and to take part in ongoing discussions. Despite your tendency to go over the top, sometimes, you do make some valid points on many occasions, so, your input is still welcome.

  9. Ammar, I think Pork rinds’s comments are not directed at you, but he would like to somehow communicate something to your Arab or Muslim readers.And Pork rind, there are two ways you can talk to Arabs and Muslims, Your wild and violent style makes you automatically lose most readers … even if they are still reading your comments, your “kill” and “murder” parts easily mask any other relevant point you try to make. Assuming you like to be read by others (not only by yourself).If you can try to filter the confrontation and anger from your next comment, then I’m sure you can get much more interest and acceptance from readers.Most, and probably all, of us here are not racist Jews haters, and we have Jewish friends who we like and respect.I hope you can be above those Arab dictators, who can not tolerate any opposition, when you learn to listen to opinions critical of the policies of the state of Israel without calling those Arabs “Racist” and “anti semetic”.

  10. Ammar,The Oxford English Dictionary defines democracy as follows:“Government by the people; that form of government in which the sovereign power resides in the people as a whole, and is exercised either directly by them or by officers elected by them. In modern use often more vaguely denoting a social state in which all have equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary differences of rank or privilege. While you are correct to think of democracy as a process and that real democracy is a goal that is never achieved, I think that the above definition makes it clear that the concept of democracy is more black and white than most of us are willing to admit. Indeed, using the above definition (especially the modern one), one cannot help but think that Syria’s current system stands at an extreme contrast with the spirit of the above definition.Admittedly, this is the first time that I spent any time reading through your forum. One cannot help but come away feeling your sense of frustration with the regime. At the outset, let me state that I do share your frustrations. What I think frustrates you most is watching seemingly intelligent fellow countrymen who do not see things the way you do. Set below is a sample of the issues that they cite to support their calls for the status quo:“We cannot take the risk of instability and chaos if the regime is replaced”This is typically the response of Christians and other minorities.“Bashar wants to change but he is blocked by the old guard”This is typically the response of the young generation “We are not ready for democracy”This is typically the response of people who live inside the country“Who is the alternative”?Christians and minorities who basically fear the alternative of the Moslem Brotherhood again typically cite this.“We will not accept outside help”This is the typical response of 99% of Syrians.While I respect your involvement in the various projects that you have been involved in to instigate change, I must admit that I am skeptical of their success. This regime knows that the only way they can be unseated is for the international community to lead the drive. Regrettably, internal and external opposition figures are applauded when they refuse international support. This is an enormous mistake and is music to the regime’s ears. The team of Bashar, Maher, Shawkat & Bushra are fully aware that there is precious little to fear from an opposition that is not backed by a powerful external power. The genius of this regime has been in augmenting the hatred and reluctance of any Syrian opposition to seek the help of America in particular. So long as the Syrian regime can make it difficult for opposition figures to make overtures to the international community seeking help in toppling it, achieving this aim will remain a far away dream. Let me conclude by arguing that this regime will never be removed unless the Syrian people are ready to seek outside help in all forms. People should also be told that changing he status quo is not going to be easy. Of course, a form of instability is going to ensue. The road ahead is unlikely to be smooth. But, to continue with the current regime is to postpone the inevitable. The current state of affairs is not normal. This regime continues to hope that it can repair the dam that broke. Their survival is at stake. They will not yield to any pressure, change or reform because they are convinced that these are merely code words to set the stage to remove them from power. The above leadership team knows that this is a slippery slop that they must not travel on. I am convinced that they will not take the bait. If the Syrian people do not want Hafez Assad Junior as their next president, they must turn to the international community for the help and resources that they so desperately lack. The immediate next step would be to draft a new secular constitution that allows all its mosaic if sects to have “equal rights, without hereditary or arbitrary differences of rank or privilege”, just as definition of democracy calls for.

  11. Ammar, I think Pork rinds’s comments are not directed at you, but he would like to somehow communicate something to your Arab or Muslim readers.actually quite perceptive….stated: And Pork rind, there are two ways you can talk to Arabs and Muslims, Your wild and violent style makes you automatically lose most readers ..understood, but this “persona” is a “shock” personastated: your “kill” and “murder” parts easily mask any other relevant point you try to make.i disagree, they are actually only comments made daily by the palestinians and wahabists and bAssuming you like to be read by others (not only by yourself).If you can try to filter the confrontation and anger from your next comment, then I’m sure you can get much more interest and acceptance from in laden types, i just reverse the dialouge.stated: Most, and probably all, of us here are not racist Jews haters, and we have Jewish friends who we like and respect.actually i KNOW that, if i thought otherwise i would not post at allstated:I hope you can be above those Arab dictators, who can not tolerate any opposition,actually, i dont fed critcs into food shredders, nor do I support suicide bombers, so i am way above them, i just say, it’s time for the arab world to USE the tools that the arab leaders USE on their own peoplestated: when you learn to listen to opinions critical of the policies of the state of Israel without calling those Arabs “Racist” and “anti semetic”.I do not call anyone one racist or anti-semitic for critizing israel, however anyone one that will murder jewish kids for simply eatting pizza i would call that…

  12. sorry typostated: your “kill” and “murder” parts easily mask any other relevant point you try to make.i disagree, they are actually only comments made daily by the palestinians and wahabists and bin laden just turned around,…

  13. Ehsani2, first of all, let me welcome you to my blog. Of course, I am already acquainted with you theough comments on Syria Comment.Second, I am actually, in complete agreement with you on the necessity of calling for outside support, even military support, if and when needed, it will most likely be needed. My whole argument in favor of regime change is indeed meant primarily to garner both internal and international support for this matter, and to convince more and more Syrians of the necessity of accepting international support in this regard. Thank you for adding your own clear support to this point.

  14. Ehsani2few commments1) If according to the OXford dictionary the concept of democracy is more black and white than most of us are willing to admit then why should we care?Ammar’s point is that we should just start moving ahead instead of refusing to move because we know it would be difficult for us to go all the way from dark Grey to White.2) I partially disagree with you about simplifying the backgrounds of those who are tolerant of the regime’s stay in power. There are Christians who hate the regme … have you checked the names of opposition groups meeting in north America? have you read Michel Kilo in Annahar?You can say that the regime has a higher percentage of support among minorities, but going more specific would be not accurate.Maybe a more accurate analysis would be to apply the the very simple and basic Maslow s hierarchy of needs which can explain why after Iraq and Lebanon, a majority of Syrians are not much concerned about their need for better political system (Democracy), but are much more concerned about preserving the current situation which they clearly perceive as a guarantee for the satisfaction of their lower level basic needs of security.Of course there are those who have been directly affected by our dictatorship in Syria that they do not share the same priorities as the majority of Syrians. I have no doubt if I was in Damascus and they arrested me and jailed me for saying something nice about the MB, then I would also change my priorities … but I assume that most younger Syrians are really more in tune to their president’s list of priorities:SecurityEconimyotherof course there are certain groups like the Kurds, or the fundamentalist islamists, or many intellectuals who feel that the regime is in serious conflict with their desires and goals…my conclusion: Outside help is wrong … in 1980 the MB got all the outside help they wanted to have from Saddam, from King Hussein, from some groups in Lebanon, the United States … everyone tried to get rid of Hafez who was very weak economically and who was isolated and at bad terms with the Americans (for leading the opposition to Sadat’s Camp David). Where did it lead to?Instead, you could observe that the reason most Syrians do not risk their lifes or comfort in revolting against the regime is perhaps because they are not motivated enough to do so … they might not approve of many things, but not to that degree … There is no burning desire to change the regime. You’ll see it when it happens, they will go to the streets like they did in Lebanon when they assumed (correctly or by mistake) that Syria killed hteir prime minister. At that point, outisde help MIGHT be helpful. otherwise, it is another case of the MB in 1980 …You are a good researcher, would you give us your impression of the shape of the histogram of negativity towards the regime and the status quo for the Syrian population. Try to come up with percentages of Syrians who fit in each segment along the negativity line (x-axis)And I remind you that we agreed last week at Joshua’s blog to not entirely shoot each other’s opinions:)

  15. Pork rinds,Thanks for your reply.Alright. I have a suggestion:Register another blogger identity that sounds like Syrian names …”fakhri”, “bahjat” or “tannous” sound about right. You can use that one to communicate with Syrian readers with your “shock” styleAnd you can continue to use your other name to open a calmer dialogue about terrorism, and Arab Israeli conflict and preferably about solutions to that conflict.

  16. I enjoy your blog. I’m an American trying to learn more about the Mid-East.As was pointed out, the direst risk, which is the present situation continuing for another generation, is overshadowed by intimidation and a barely acceptable level of contentment. It’s pretty difficult to take real risk or make real sacrifice today for the sake of the unknown future. In my reading, it looks as if many don’t recognize the totalitarian nature of the Islamists. Do you think that’s true?

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