Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Engaging Hamas & Friends as Means to Middle East Democracy

As has been known for a while, Hamas stands to win today's election in Palestine-to-be, and the shiites's victory in the Iraqi election was finally confirmed recently too. It is definitely time to revise the West's reticence towards Middle Eastern religiously flavored political actors.

If the West sees building stable and democratically legitimate states in the Middle East
as central to its own security interests, it has to take serious the preferences of the populations. The Western project of secularization has come much less further than it would appear at first sight as the different welfare state models all mirror deep seated and culturally dependent representative conceptions of equity in their given states. We should not be afraid of religion in politics: secularization proper happens slowly and gradually, including our own.

Therefore, the West cannot ignore those Middle Eastern political or proto-political actors who represent larger chunks of their people than do their more secular or liberal local counterparts. Citizen opting-in and thus state legitimacy depends on state policies and mores that resemble the population. Moreover, these actors represent the equivalent of those Church and labor organizations who were active co-founders of the Western state-building projects' welfare apparatus, and who -- as mass movement representatives -- mediated the national variances present in today's Western states.

This is not to say, that Hamas', Sadr's, or Lebanese Hezbollah's violence or their religious intolerance should be accepted. But their civilian, worldly policies regarding the well-being of the populations must be taken seriously, and be engaged. Gaining power will force them to deliver -- especially if we hold them to their promises. Paradoxically or not, these organizations might just have a key role in creating legitimate, prosperous and democratic regimes in the Middle East -- over the long term, and better than the process so far.

EDIT: After the fact discovery: Haim Malka at the CSIS agrees with me (via Nessen at Think Tank Town; and again here, including O'Hanlon!).

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