The world watches as President Bush relentlessly promotes democracy in the turbulent Middle East and Central Asia. Criticisms vary: Democracy is a confection of the West; Islam is in fundamental conflict with democracy; and most repugnant (and semi-racist), Arabs are unprepared for democracy. But in a journey to three Arab and Central Asia capitals, I found democracy developing at a dramatic pace. In Kabul, Beirut and Cairo, leaders and masses alike earnestly seek something better. The real regional debate, Arab and non-Arab, urban and rural, is not whether democracy but what form of democracy.
Few serious commentators favor rigid rule by monarch, military or mullah. Some put forth a vague form of governance wherein Allah perfectly instructs worldly leaders and followers alike, and a few others wrap themselves in theocratic, "Islamist" political garb to selfishly grasp corrupt control of governments from Tehran, Islamabad and Kabul to Algiers, Tripoli and Cairo. But the lack of progress throughout the entire region has proved to all but the most stubborn that another, yes, foreign form of government--democracy--is the best option to try.
Kabul: It's About Time
Three and a half years after liberation by the United States, there is an air of expectancy in the Afghan capital and throughout the country as it prepares for September's parliamentary elections. The elections will cap four steps agreed to in late 2001 at a unique conference in Bonn that included representatives from every sector of Afghan society. An Emergency Loya Jirga and subsequent Constitutional Loya Jirga were followed by presidential elections last October. Parliamentary elections complete a remarkably determined exercise by formerly fractious Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek ethnic groups, Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, and innumerable lesser tribes and sects.