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Tuesday, April 24, 2012



Hugh Graham, April 17, 2012

            In the wake of Kofi Annan’s fragile peace initiative in Syria and the Western mission for rights and democracy, the messy twilight drama of the Arab Spring will probably not produce anything the West will recognize. Two centuries ago, according to one theory, the imposition of western ideology through military force began with Napoleon. After the agonizing debate about limitations on military humanitarian intervention in Libya and in Syria, not to mention the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan, the West has become extremely careful about when and where it intervenes. And whatever the outcome, it will not be the sort of thing the West has hoped for. In fact, it appears, culture will trump politics.  
           A simpler, more idealistic result was suggested by Raymond Fukuyama, in his 1992 book, The End of History and The Last Man. There, Fukuyama claimed that a long historical process had ended with the fall of Communism, the victory of Liberal Democracy and its inevitable spread across the globe. He got the idea from the philosopher Alexander Kojeve. Kojeve wrote that the spread of western ideology by military means was conceived with the Liberal Democratic ideals of the French Revolution and took root when Napoleon began his conquest of monarchist, continental Europe with the Battle of  Jena in 1806. This “Robespierran Bonapartism” played itself out through the global triumphs of Communism and Liberal Democracy in two world wars and several revolutions.
           Kofi Annan’s Syrian peace deal will not lead to any such triumph. It’s meant to get UN peacekeepers and observers to stand between the Syrian military and its opponents. With a great deal of luck it may even negotiate a graceful exit for President Assad and the gradual implementation of democracy. What the UN plan will never do, despite its best efforts, is determine what kind of democracy Syria will end up with.
          In many respects, the UN has been playing a backup role to Western military intervention. Where military means are precarious, the UN slowly works its way in to stem the flow of blood. If that works, there follows some gentle form of regime change and even gentler implementation of democracy. There it ends. Not in Napoleon’s Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, not in the universal protection of rights but rather, in a sort of fill-in-the-blanks idea of democracy.
           That is why most media pundits seem afraid to look hard into the future of the Arab Spring. What opinion there is seems to be divided between the Alarmists and the Polyannas. The Alarmists see Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremists moving into political vacuums all across the Middle East at the expense of rights, democracy and Western security. The Polyannas see young secularists armed with Facebook and Twitter bringing rights and democracy to the entire region.
         The real prognosis, at least as far as it can be deciphered, looks more like moderate Islamism. Enneada in Tunisia and the Muslim Brotherhood’s  Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt are already defining their own ideas of democracy. Yet neither wants anything to do with Al Qaeda. And if the parties don’t particularly love Israel, they don’t want trouble with it. Their biggest concern is economic prosperity. Both believe that a foundation in Islamic Law must precede democracy.                                  
          Everywhere, culture is trumping politics. Across the Middle East, other Muslim Brotherhood groups and similar parties whose main concern is the rule of Islamic Law are starting to look like the future.  Meanwhile, as Western institutions fumble nervously around the edges of  the bloody Assad regime in Damascus, we can be certain that the old “Robespierran Bonapartism” of 1806 is coming to an end.         

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