Money won’t create democracy

June 3, 2011


The upheaval in Yemen and the possibility that al-Qaida might take over, turning that country into a stronger terrorist base than it already is, should give pause to American and European policy in the Arab world.

At its recently concluded G-8 meeting of industrial economies in Deauville, France, Western governments pledged $40 billion to “newly democratic” nations in North Africa and the Middle East. One might as well throw money at Chicago and hope for electoral reform so the dead are no longer allowed to vote on Election Day.

In spring, one usually cultivates a lawn so that new vegetation can take root and grow. In the Arab world where this money is targeted the only roots you’ll find are the roots of oppression and terrorism. If Western nations think what is happening in Tunisia and Egypt will lead to real democracy where competing political parties, ideologies and faiths have a fair and equal opportunity of being debated, they are seriously deluded. The money would have a better chance of financing a winning streak in a Las Vegas casino.

If these countries were seriously pursuing democracy and needed only money to complete their transformation, there is plenty of money in the region that could be used to help them. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, OPEC income is expected to rise this year above the $200 billion increase of 2010. That would be around $833 billion, the Energy Information Administration forecasts. That’s money the United States and the rest of the G-8 have paid oil-producing nations at prices ranging from $4 to $7 a gallon, depending on the country.

If money alone could foster democracy in North Africa and the Middle East, there are plenty of Arab countries with loads of it — chiefly Saudi Arabia. Yet the Saudis have shown very little interest in an “Arab spring,” preferring to remain instead in the doldrums of an Arab winter.

Democracy doesn’t spring up of its own accord. It must have a base from which it can blossom. That was a point made by Timur Kuran, a professor of economics and political science at Duke University, in a recent op-ed column for The New York Times entitled “The Weak Foundations of Arab Democracy.” Kuran wrote, “Democracy requires checks and balances, and it is largely through civil society that citizens protect their rights as individuals, force policymakers to accommodate their interests, and limit abuses of state authority. Civil society also promotes a culture of bargaining and gives future leaders the skills to articulate ideas, form coalitions and govern.”

None of this exists in any of the nations to which the G-8 has pledged its support. In Egypt, supposedly the most progressive of the Arab states, fundamentalist Muslims still persecute Coptic Christians. The radical Muslim Brotherhood, which at the start of the revolution claimed no interest in political power, is now active in its pursuit of victory in the upcoming election and hints that it might revoke Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.

The problems in North Africa and the Middle East can’t be solved by money. What’s needed is a change in outlook. Radical Islam forces women into second-class status; it is rooted, not in optimism, but in pessimism. Radical Islamists appear to serve an angry God who commands them to kill those who do not believe as they do, but this belief will do little to lift the Arab world out of the religious and political deep freeze that holds it back from true progress.

In C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Narnia has been transformed by a white witch into a land where it is “always winter, but never Christmas.” That pretty much describes the lands of North Africa and the Middle East where the “white witch” is radical Islam and spring will never arrive as long as it holds sway over the minds and hearts of the people.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. His email is tmseditors@tribune.com.


Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

"The radical Muslim Brotherhood,,,, hints that it might revoke Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel."

Step one of the revocation is to return the Sinai Peninsula to Israel, because it was traded for the peace treaty in 1979.

Israel certainly could use the additional 23,000 square miles, since it's such a small country.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

"Israel certainly could use the additional 23,000 square miles, since it's such a small country."

Great idea-- they could call it "Lebensraum."

jhawkinsf 7 years ago

Just guessing, but I suspect Ron was suggesting that should Egypt revoke the peace treaty with Israel, there would be consequences.
Bozo, what do you think should be the consequence of Egypt revoking the peace treaty?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

According to folks like you, it's perfectly legitimate for a country to expand its territory through war.

Perhaps the Egyptians are merely adopting your stance.

Who knows what the consequences would be if that were to happen?

jhawkinsf 7 years ago

Well, I didn't ask what the consequences would be, I asked what the consequences should be, in your opinion. And I've never said that it's perfectly legitimate for a country to expand it's territory though war. I've said that such expansion has happened throughout time and is a natural consequences when the aggressor nation loses the war. I also believe in the concept of returning the territory in exchange for real peace, as happened with the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

How about when the aggressor nation wins the war?

The fact is that both sides of this conflict have been aggressors, and over the last nearly 40 years, Israel has been far more aggressive than anyone else in that region.

jhawkinsf 7 years ago

Answering a question with a question.

While both sides have been aggressive at times, it has been the stated attempt by one side to eliminate the other. Israel, being much smaller than the combined Arab nations, has never had the inclination to drive them into the sea. The Arab countries can lose many wars and prevail in the end simply by using demographics. If Israel loses one war, they're gone, poof. With each war, Israel is fighting for it's life, for it's very existence. With each war, Israel's adversaries are fighting to re-claim just a small portion of land that had been nominally in their control for a relative amount of time. With differing goals comes differing strategies.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

There is a new factor in the equation now, and that's the Sampson Option. A clip from the above with a few words left out sums up the Sampson Option:

"The Arab countries can ,,,,,simply,,,,,, they're gone, poof."

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

"Answering a question with a question."

It's an open forum. I have just as much right to pose questions as you do.

Besides, your question was ridiculous. It's a now endless cycle of violence perpetrated by both sides, although nowhere near equally. Asking what the "consequences" should be when one particular side does their part to continue the cycle ignores the larger picture-- a picture in which the violent elements of each side that drive this travesty can claim any truly moral high ground. All they can do is claim to be Gawd's chosen people of one sort or another, and other superstitious claptrap.

jhawkinsf 7 years ago

Yes, it's an open forum and you may pose questions. Our history has been that you ask, I answer. I ask, you refuse to answer. Your right, yes. Rude, yes.
As to the endless cycle, the fact is that as far as Israel and Egypt is concerned, that endless cycle of violence has been broken. There has been peace now for decades, much to the credit of Egypt. Sadat made peace and he deserves much of the credit. But Israel too has kept it's part of the bargain. Now, Egypt is threatening that peace. Israel is concerned, as is the rest of the world. To end the peace would bring unknown consequences. In the past, you've complained about the hostilities between Israel and it's neighbors. But you refuse to recognize that peace now exists, Israel wants the status quo, peace, and Egypt is threatening that. You can't have it both ways, Bozo. You can't complain about war and complain about peace.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

"How about when the aggressor nation wins the war?"

That's exactly how we scored Texas, New Mexico, and California.

American territorial expansion to the Pacific coast was the goal of President James K. Polk, the leader of the Democratic Party.

In Mexico, the Mexican-American War is called American intervention in Mexico, American invasion of Mexico, or sometimes War of '47.

They're still not very pleased about that in Mexico, but the Mexican government has never considered going to war again, preferring instead to live in peace.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

What's your point? Just because the US was powerful enough to steal away major parts of Mexico, what exactly does that prove?

Is Israel only as legitimate as its ability to defend itself from its neighbors? Is it really just a matter of the Saudis' willingness to fund the military takeover of that region to found an Islamic state there? (something it likely could do.)

Would the use of such force make it even more legitimate than Israel, which depends on massive infusions of US tax dollars and military equipment to keep itself propped up?

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

jhawkinsf: You're exactly right. The very last thing Israel wants is a war. But if it is thrust upon them, there will be a response.

Very much like the United States responded to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

if they don't want war, how come they keep attacking Palestinians and Lebanese, and maintain a system of Apartheid?

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

Israel does not "attack", they respond because thousands of rockets have been fired upon them, as well as other acts of aggression such as shooting civilians and kidnapping. Ever hear of the plight of Gilad Shalit?

And, did you know that the Arab population of Israel in 2010 was estimated at 1,573,000, representing 20.4% of the population? The majority of these identify themselves as Arab or Palestinian by nationality and Israeli by citizenship.

They are citizens that are eligible to vote and also to become memebers of the Knesset.

You are using a new definition of "Apartheid", but that's commonly done in the case of Israel.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

The Arabs merely "respond" as well, to the nearly daily attacks on Palestinians throughout the region. And Palestinians die at at least 3 times the rate that Israelis do-- they died at more than 100 times the rate in the last full-scale attack on Gaza.

BTW, Palestinians in occupied territories do not have citizenship, do not have the right to vote, do not have the right of free travel or employment, and they are not permitted to move into Israel, even if they marry an Israeli citizen.

Palestinians also have had walls built around their towns (on their territory, not Israeli territory) and have to endure endless checkpoints in order to travel anywhere, if often they aren't permitted to travel at all.

I know that you see Israel as perfect, and you therefore don't like the term "Apartheid," but your willful ignorance doesn't make the term any less apt.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

Until a peace treaty is signed and is adhered to, that is just the way things are going to be. Israel is certainly willing to make compromises, but it seems that the Arabs are not. The most they will consider is a "hudna", which is only a temporary lull while they prepare for another war.

The territories are occupied due to “the first war in history in which the victor sued for peace and the loser called for unconditional surrender.”

  • Abba Eban, refering to the 1967 war.

jhawkinsf 7 years ago

"BTW, Palestinians in occupied territories do not have citizenship, (etc.). That's an interesting idea. Surely you would not want them to have Israeli citizenship. That would be de facto Israeli sovereignty. Surely you would appose that. Because Palestine has never existed, they cannot be citizens of that. I assume that those born prior to 1967 were Jordanian citizens, but they have since been abandoned by Jordan. Who would you have them be citizens of? They have voted in their own elections and the winner, Hamas, still is not recognized in the occupied territories. And that is because of the internal dispute between Fatah and Hamas.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

Yea, I know, anything Israel does is perfect, and all problems in the region are caused by those Neanderthal Palestinians.

You're a broken record, but God must be proud of you for your uncritical support of his chosen people.

jhawkinsf 7 years ago

I'm not religious in the least, so I have no idea if God is proud of me or not. And we're all as chosen as the next, not at all in my opinion. And I do not think everything Israel does is perfect. But I do believe they have conducted themselves in a better manner than the other side. They have made peace when it was offered. They returned land when their safety was guaranteed. They have offered compromise after compromise. Those compromises were rejected.
If you see my post from earlier, I gave Sadat and Egypt much of the credit for the peace treaty that ended hostilities between the two countries. However, if Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood or any other group should terminate the peace treaty, then it will be Egypt that is responsible for what happens next. If this is mere saber rattling, then we've all seen that movie before and we all know how it ends.

Ron Holzwarth 7 years ago

Israel does not and has never had the goal of adding any more territory than Eretz Israel. The Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights were never part of it, and there is no sense of entitlement to them.

Although they have been captured, they were only held as a bargaining chip for peace. And now after making that trade with Egypt for the Sinai Peninsula, some in Egypt are talking about revoking it.

gkerr 7 years ago

To All,

I think most of us believe radical Islam is really a huge problem for Moslems, seculars, Christians, Buddhists, Darwinist, Scientologist's, Jews, all Pilgrims. Radical Islam is even bad for Jihadists. Islam has periodically been overcome with radical Jihadist sentiment over the millennia, Jihadists ascendency is not the result of Israel, or Western Materialists, or Christians, or Marxist's, or European Socialists, Hindus, singly or in combination- but rather it is the result of a notion among many Moslems and their Religious leaders and their holy writ that they are commanded by Allah to conquer the earth and bring a Moslem Theocracy to every square inch of the globe. They have a particular animus for Jews but this animus is universal for all but Radicals of their particular sect as witnessed by their butchering of one another who are a bit different from themselves in radical Islamic denomination.

The danger to Israel is great at this juncture because of the Anti-Semitism of the Western Intellectual, especially the secular elites, even many Jewish elites, which conflates with the explosive Jihad moment of the most recent rise of Militant Islam which as previously mentioned is a serially recurrent occurrence over the centuries since Mohammed's revelation from Allah.

The danger to the Mideast is that the Militants will misjudge the Jews promise to never again suffer a genocidal Holocaust without one he'll of a fight. Jews have nuclear weapons and if their survival is at stake they will use them and their will be blood spilled and flesh burned in a catastrophic war.

Caution is best for all parties but Jihadism does not lend itself to caution. Gkerr

gkerr 7 years ago

Liberty One,

It seems you are quite deluded. We all act on what we believe. You clearly believe that all religions are fake made up myths, thus you write your comment believing that people don't act on their beliefs because God isn't real or something. You acted on your beliefs by writing your comment. I write in rebuttal because I believe you are confused and clearly wrong as you trivialize a deadly recurrent phenomenon that is a powerful current in World history.

Faith, Hope, Love, habits of virtue and vice, hatred, are all powerful shapers of human behavior. Gkerr

jafs 7 years ago

Except that radical Islam is a term for a set of beliefs.

Just as libertarianism is, or atheism, etc.

gkerr 7 years ago


Your argument in my opinion is very sophisticated as in Sophist. Yes people kill and people love and people hate and people believe in the fairy tales of Marxism_Leninism. People in WW2 believed Jews were subhuman vermin that should be killed, slaughtered. Not just Religious types in the traditional sense such as Jihadis, Puritans, Catharists, Albigenses, Hindu Mobs, Crusaders and Inquisitors act on their beliefs, but atheists, causuists, secular materialists, Women's abortion advocates, abortionists, Eugenicists, Illuminati, Rapists, Warriors, and on and on and on.

So what"s the point?

It matters not a whit that this or that zealot acts on a mistaken belief- their Bombs and Gulags and IMD's, and racks, and concentration camps and gas chambers kill on their behalf. Yes people make the moral choice but they make it based upon their beliefs, urges, concupisence.

You make a distinction without a difference which is really no distinction at all. Gkerr

Commenting has been disabled for this item.