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Friday, February 25, 2011

Middle East Democracy?

Many voices across the political and media spectrums have hailed the recent protests and changes in governments across the Middle East as welcome democratic advances into a largely totalitarian region of the world. With Tunisian President Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak overthrown, protests have spread to Yemen, Iran, Jordan, Bahrain, and most recently to Libya, where Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime teeters on the edge of collapse. These revolutions-in-the-making are the agitations of mostly restless young men who are tired of low wages, few prospects for advancement, and stifling government control over just about everything. In other words, these are rebellions like most others in history.

Seen from the West, the protests, the calls for new elections, and the forcing of longtime leaders out of office seem to be the perfect setup for the progress of democracy. To those of this mind, this is the formula for a more peaceful world. Perhaps if all nations were democracies, the peace quotient would indeed be higher than today, but would it necessarily be significantly higher? A better but more general question would be, "Would global democracy ensure peace?" And the answer would be a resounding, "No!"

No form of human government can ensure peace, and the reason is found in the word "human." People have human nature, and no matter how they are governed, people will come into conflict with each other because human nature is essentially selfish (see Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19). When two people—or two nations—want the same thing badly enough, they will do whatever it takes to get it, including going to war. The only real advantage of a democracy over monarchy or totalitarianism is that more people have to agree to take the road to war or to any other evil, yet these things still happen with regularity. As former British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill remarked, "Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

In his most recent column, "Democracy Versus Liberty," Dr. Walter E. Williams, an economist at George Mason University, reminded his readers that "democracy and majority rule [are] a contemptible form of government." He went on to quote a handful of the Founding Fathers—from James Madison and John Adams to Alexander Hamilton—illustrating that they held democracy in low regard and therefore did not saddle the fledgling United States of America with it. In fact, they called democracy "turbulent," "folly," "extreme," and "suicidal"! Hamilton wrote, "If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy, or some other form of dictatorship."

As Dr. Williams points out, our nation's two most fundamental documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, do not contain even one instance of the word "democracy." The Constitution of the United States establishes the government of this nation as a republic, which dictionaries define simplistically as a government comprised of elected representatives of the people and usually presided over by an elected president. Likewise, they say a democracy is majority rule by the people, whether directly or through representatives.

While these spare definitions sound very similar, the similarity ends here. The primary difference, as seen through the Founders eyes, is the origin of rights: In a republic, they are the natural rights that spring from a loving God, and the government is constitutionally bound to protect them. In a democracy, rights have their source in the people, and the government imposes them through the force of law. Thus, citizens of a republic have a divine assurance of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" that no just law can supplant, whereas those in a democracy have no such guarantee. The majority can change or annul their rights at its whim.

Unfortunately, the United States discarded true republicanism a long while ago, transforming itself into a representative democracy, and this is the form of government that it has been pressing on the nations of the Middle East for many years. The consequences of this are troubling. If these nations are successful in forming democratic governments, they will not ally or even collaborate with the liberal West but with their Muslim brothers in the Islamic world—and increase the possibility of world war, not diminish it!

The strongmen currently being overthrown are the "devils we know," as it were, and they have maintained a degree of peace in the region for many years, albeit with sporadic flare-ups and threats of terrorism. Egypt's Mubarak, especially, has respected the peace treaty between his country and Israel that he inherited from his predecessor, Anwar Sadat. While the Egyptian military regime has not fallen (only the head of state has been removed), the new government has promised to share power with more radical elements who may not honor the treaty in the same way. Should the Muslim Brotherhood become more influential, it will surely renounce it, and a new Arab-Israeli war would not be far behind.

The situation in Bahrain, whose population is 70% Shia like Iran, contains another factor that will undermine keeping Middle East peace if the current government falls to a "democratic" revolution. For many years, the U.S. Navy has headquartered its Fifth Fleet in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom under a deal that has been maintained since World War II. The ships and their attached air forces are stationed there to ensure the free flow of oil, to contain Iran, and to monitor and prevent terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah from strengthening and expanding across the region. Its mere presence deters these radical actors on many levels.

Finally, Yemeni President Saleh, who has been an ally against al Qaeda, has pledged—under the duress of demonstrations—that he will not run for office again in 2013, nor will his son, whom he had hoped to succeed him. Yemen, itself a hotbed of radical Islamism, lies just across the Red Sea from Somalia and all of its turmoil. A radicalized Yemen would virtually guarantee heightened tensions around the Horn of Africa and disrupt sea traffic between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

The situation across the Middle East could change swiftly if these dominoes begin to fall. Certainly, the nation of Israel will begin to feel even more encircled by enemies, and its only real ally, the U.S., handcuffed by distance and shrinking logistical options, may be unable to come to its aid with strength as it now can. Could we be seeing the region reconfigured to instigate the King of the North's whirlwind invasion, as Daniel 11:40-43 describes? Perhaps, but would it not be a great irony if this world's great hope, democracy, played such a central role in bringing on the crisis at the close of this age?