DEMOCRACY SURE, BUT ON WHOSE TERMS?
I am writing this from my hotel room in Doha, Qatar where I have been invited to speak at the 7th Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade. Back home this event has perhaps not received any public attention. While the smallest of violent event from the Muslim world brings with it instant analysis of the Islamic causality to such violence, the studious efforts of the Muslim world to take steps towards democracy and development are routinely neglected. Also conspicuous by their absence at this event are policy makers from America.
Today was the opening night of the program. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani opened the forum with an introspective lecture about the need for democracy in the Middle East and his personal disappointment at the slow progress being made towards this goal. Democracy may not be the best form of government, except as Winston Churchill said all other forms have been tried and they failed.
The other major speaker at the event was U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke about his personal observations about the Korean experiment towards democracy and argued that economic development is the pre-cursor to democracy. He probably meant sustained democracy. As the next speaker former Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Chinawatra attested to by citing his own undemocratic removal from power by the military junta was primarily the result of mounting economic problems in Thailand.
Usually the openings of such forums are staid events and one does not expect fireworks. But surprisingly there was a small one. Current leader of the British House of Commons and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw reiterated President Bush’s view that democracies do not wage wars against each other as one of the rationales for democratization.
This provoked an angry response from Amr Moussa, General Secretary of the Arab League when he pointed out the false causality between democracy and peace as democratic regimes (U.S., Britain and Israel) have invaded and occupied foreign lands from Palestine to Iraq.