Dawn of Democracy?

By: Slater Bakhtavar

2011 has been a remarkable year in world politics. Never before in recent history have there been so many examples in quick succession of citizens rising up against their governments. Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria have all witnessed political demonstrations, with varying results and levels of violence.

The people of the world have been watching events unfolding in these countries with a mixture of admiration and hope. The demonstrators are to be admired for their bravery in fighting back against oppressive regimes. In many instances it has cost them their lives. Hope comes from seeing the protests in Tunisia result in the removal of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and the Egyptians ousting the despotic regime of President Hosni Mubarak.

These are by no means the only examples of political turbulence and upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa. Aside from aforementioned, there have also been protests held in Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Oman and Yemen. The catalysts for these protests have often been economic factors. However it is undeniable that in many cases the people are calling for regime change and greater democratic rights.

One of the most mesmerizing attributes of the demonstrations has been the way in which the people have used technology to transmit their messages to the world. This is extensively a twenty-first century phenomenon, as previously political protests could be suppressed with the rest of the world vaguely hearing about it. In 2011 the protesters were able to upload camera phone footage to YouTube, to email friends throughout the world, and to share their experiences on social media websites such as Facebook.

This was despite attempts by the ruling regimes to censor their citizens by muffling access to the internet. This was particularly true in Egypt, but has vibrated in other nations. The people were still able to use alternative methods to spread their voices, resulting in the world’s attention focusing on these countries and their struggles. The government of the USA has been monitoring events very closely, and must decide on what action to take, if any, on a country by country basis.

It is telling that the only country so far to see intervention by coalition forces, Libya, has not yet succeeded in achieving regime change. Colonel Gaddafi still remains in power despite the support given to the country’s rebel forces. As such, there is a continuing debate as to whether a better course of action might be to impose economic and political sanctions while strongly condemning the autocratic leaders of these regimes.

There is a real fear that military intervention will result in the political leaders actually receiving more support. Military intervention produces significant civilian deaths and leads to substantial collateral damage to the infrastructure of the country. The alternative, non-destructive, method of aiding people in their struggle is to put political pressure on leaders and open channels of direct communication with the pro-Democracy populace. This is much more likely to garner support among the people rather than the backlash military intervention could bring.

Iran and Syria are perfect examples of countries where the USA could help to bring about peaceful regime change. In both cases protesters demonstrating for greater democracy have been killed or injured by their country’s authoritarian leaders. The people want change, but are being denied their right to bring it about. In both countries the regimes are supporters of militant groups such as Hezbollah, meaning that they pose a threat to security in the region. They also promote anti-American propaganda, meaning that their revolting citizens may be more willing to accept US assistance.

The dawn of democracy is rising in the Middle East and North Africa. Given adequate support and concise foreign policy initiatives it could lead to a peaceful, progressive, stable and democratic region.

Slater Bakhtavar is an attorney journalist, foreign policy analyst and political commentator. He has appeared as a guest on numerous nationally syndicated talk shows including G. Gordon Liddy, Jim Bohannon Show, NPR, Crosstalk America, Mancow Mueller, Voice of America and Newsmakers. He is author of “Iran: The Green Movement” and attorney at Bakhtavar & Associates, PLLC.

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