Philosopher Immanuel Kant once wrote that the majority of people would never go to war, except in self-defense. If so, an increase in democracy should lead to a more peaceful world. President Woodrow Wilson made this principle a key goal in World War I.
The history of the past century would appear to confirm this view. The nations that provoked the great wars of that century were either empires (Austria-Hungary, Wilhelmine Germany and Japan) or fascist dictatorships (Nazi Germany and Italy). Moreover, since World War II the dictatorial regimes that started the War were replaced by democracies, and all have kept the peace. Russia today, although not fully democratic, does not pose the threat to Europe that its Communist predecessor did. Similarly, the new democracy in Iraq is no threat to peace, in sharp contrast to the tyrannical regime of Sadam Hussein.
A drive to replace dictatorship with democracy has swept the Middle East in 2011; but will that mean a more peaceful region in the future?
Egypt, the largest and most powerful Arab state, has been under military rule since the overthrow of King Farouk in 1952 by Col. Gamal Abdul Nasser. Nasser embarked upon an aggressive policy: seizing the Suez canal in 1956, sending troops to Yemen in the early 1960′s, and deliberately provoking two wars with Israel (1956 and 1967), both of which Egypt lost. After his death in 1970, his successor, Anwar Sadat, launched another war against Israel in 1973, but made a peace treaty with the Jewish state in 1977, for which he was assassinated in 1981. The assassins were aligned with the miitant Muslim Brotherhood, which had been ruthlessly suppressed by both Nasser and Sadat.
Hosni Mubarak, who succeeded the slain Sadat, maintained Sadat’s policies of peace with Israel and suppression of the Islamists. But the overthrow of Mubarak earlier this year has given the Brotherhood and allied Islamic parties the opportunity to run for seats in the parliament, and perhaps the presidency. The first round of parliamentary elections last week was won by these parties.
If Kant and Wilson were right, the majority of Egyptians will opt for peace, so democracy in Egypt will be good for Israel and other nations in the region. But polls have shown that most Egyptians hate Israel with a passion, and only the repressive rule of the military has maintained the peace. It is significant that since Mubarak was forced out, the military junta now in power has opened the border with Gaza in response to popular sympathy with the Palestinians. In Egyptian politics, hostility to Israel is a major theme, like anti-communism was in the US in the early 1950′s.
In the western democracies the role of religion in setting national policies has declined over the past century, but in the Middle East the power of militant Islam is rising. At first it was the overthrow of the Shah of Iran by the ayatollahs in 1979, then the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, now the victories by militant Muslim parties in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. Unlike Christianity, which espouses “Peace on Earth”, the branch of Islam embraced by Al Qaida, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood extols jihad (holy war) against the infidels (non-Muslims). That is why the conclusions of Christians like Kant and Wilson do not apply to Muslim countries: democracy may well empower jihadists, who will use the powers of government to provoke wars.
The best hope for peace in the Middle East is that the Arab masses will recognize that peace is in their interest, and they will curb the jihadists among them.
Gerald S Glazer
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