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Friday, June 23, 2006

Kuwaiti Ballot Boxes ...8:22 am


Been unconscionably busy and distracted these past few days. I know I’m behind on not one but two “Theme Time Radio Hours” and will catch up for sure certain this weekend. Those things can’t be rushed, as you would well understand.

Just a quick link here to Amir Taheri’s column in this morning’s New York Post, in which he writes about the election taking place in Kuwait next week (where women will be voting and standing for office) and the continued steady pressure that tyranny is experiencing in the Arab world generally.

Some of this new interest in elections is due to the impact of Iraq on the broader Arab imagination. With a mixture of admiration and terror, Arab ruling elites saw how Saddam Hussein’s regime – regarded as the strongest of the Arab despotic structures in recent memory – collapsed within three weeks. The message was clear: An Arab regime without some mandate from the people is never more than a house of cards.

Next, the Arab masses saw millions of Iraqis lining up to cast ballots in several local elections, a referendum and two general elections, all within a couple of years.

Even several radical Islamist movements have converted to elections, as opposed to armed jihad, as a means of winning power. How sincere that conversion proves to be in the long run remains an open question; still, groups that had always claimed that elections were nothing but a “plot hatched by Jews and Crusaders” to confuse Muslims have been forced to admit that the Arab masses, given the chance, take to elections like ducks to water.

Not all Arab elections held since the Bush Doctrine burst into the Middle East can be regarded as genuine. Some despotic regimes have held votes that amounted to little more than a compliment that vice pays to virtue. In some countries, however – Yemen, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait and Iraq are the main examples – each election has been more credible than the one before, with prospects of further improvements in future.

Persuading and, when necessary, forcing Arab states to hold elections is important for another reason. Throughout history, Arab states claimed legitimacy based on divine mandate. In more recent times, regimes built around military juntas developed another theory of legitimacy – this time based on the myth of revolution. Both theories denied lesser mortals the right to bestow or withdraw legitimacy.

The holding of elections, however, is a clear admission that the principal basis for legitimacy is the will of the people as freely expressed through ballot boxes. In well-established democracies, this may sound trite; in Arab societies, it is a revolutionary idea. Thus, every election held in any Arab country must be regarded as a major event.

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