Archive for the ‘Middle East’ Category

Seven months ago, we had the historic and exciting American Presidential Election; last week the slightly less exciting and historic European Parliamentary (yawn) Elections were held…I did vote, incidentally. And tomorrow another pivotal vote takes place…the vote to elect a president in Iran. As the media coverage of the run-up to the polls has been somewhat less than wall-to-wall here in the West, my opinions will be slightly less informed than those I expressed before the November vote in the US. However, this is the blogosphere so I’m going to throw in my two cents worth regardless, based on a few minutes of browsing the Press TV and Newsweek sites (and my hopes for the future of the world).

The Iranian Election seems to be, like the American election, an opportunity for the people of Iran to send out a clear message as to whether they wish to engage with the rest of the world or retreat to a state of fear and distrust. The incumbent President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has been portrayed as some sort of bogeyman by the Western media. And whether or not this has been exaggerated, it’s often his own actions that have led to this view, with his call for the destruction of the State of Israel, his game-playing over the issue of the Iranian Nuclear Program and, most ridiculously of all, his claim that there are no gay people in Iran (yeah, and no Irish person has EVER had sex before marriage). In fact, with his bombastic, arrogant posturing, his jingoistic nationalism and a look that sometimes makes him appear out of his depth, he makes me think that he may be a distant cousin of George W Bush.

Ahmadinejad’s main opposition comes from Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who has been presented as the main hope of the reformists. A Newsweek article about his candidacy (http://www.newsweek.com/id/199150) gives a more complex view of his political history and views. However, I feel that he does appear to be a more rational candidate and that a vote for him would be an indication by Iranians that they wish to respond positively to the election of Barack Obama and the diplomatic overtures he has made to the Muslim World in general, and Iran in particular. So that is why I hope that the people of Iran go out tomorrow and vote for Mir-Hossein Mousavi as their next President – of course I am assuming that the people of Iran still have access to WordPress (and if none of them read this post, I’m sure it’s only because WordPress has been cut off!)

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Democracy is sometimes described as an inherently European and American ideal, that can’t work in places like the Middle East. This view is peddled mainly two groups – firstly by those who believe in inherent Western superiority over a supposedly inherently backwards East; secondly by those in the Mid-East who gain from maintaining the status quo of Religious Theocracy or Absolute Monarchy. However a brief look at history shows that the idea that Democracy is inherent to and only applicable to Europe and North America is a myth and this provides hope for the spread of Democracy to places where it doesn’t exist.

Firstly, Democracy in the Western World is still a relatively recent development. A little over twenty years ago, all of Eastern Europe was under the yoke of Totalitarian Communism, whereas since the fall of the Berlin Wall, eight of these countries have progressed enough to join the European Union, while another handful have functioning democracies, waiting to accede. In the early ’70s, Spain and Portugal were Fascist Dictatorships and of course the Fascism of Hitler and Mussolini removed democracy all over Europe in the 30s and 40s.

Even in countries who would be seen as having a long unbroken history of democracy, the Universal Suffrage we take for granted nowadays only came in gradually: Universal Male Suffrage only occurred widely in the late nineteenth century; Female Suffrage followed in first half of the twentieth; and of course African-American Suffrage was shamefully delayed until 1964.

And as regards the belief that Democracy is solely a European or American construct, this can be dismissed simply by answering the question: which country is the largest democracy in the world? The answer is, of course, India. And there are numerous other non-Western countries with solid democracies – Japan and South Korea to name two. South America has made a reasonably successful transition from the Military Juntas of the seventies to multi-party elections. Africa’s experience has been more difficult, yet even here there is hope, notably in Liberia where the inspirational Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has overseen her country’s transition from war-torn nation to burgeoning democracy.

I believe that Democracy is a universal ideal, which should be spread across the globe. It gives people the right to choose their own destiny and the opportunity to dismiss leaders who let them down. I feel that we, who live in democratic countries, should support its spread. However, I would warn that the military imposition of “democracy” such as what happened in Iraq, where it is carried out for selfish geo-strategic reasons rather than genuine support for the spread of democratic values, can in the long-term lead to devastating consequences (even here I was moved and encouraged by the Iraqi people’s enthusiasm for voting). The movement towards democracy must originate within a country, if it is to take hold.

And so to today: the next significant battle for democracy is being waged in the Iranian presidential election taking place on June 12th, where the government has removed Facebook from the internet there, after reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi set up his own page there. So it’s now up to the people of Iran to send a message to their theocratic leaders that this is not acceptable. I hope that you, he good people of Iran (if any of you happen upon this blog, assuming WordPress hasn’t also been removed) to reciprocate America’s choice of a leader willing to talk by electing a president wishing to do likewise, so that the world can move well away from the brink of self-destruction.

P.S.: For anybody who thinks an Irishman living in the UK has no right to tell Iranians how to vote please read my earlier post: Why Election ’08 Matters to Non-Americans as my reasons are similar