The wars in Lebanon and Gaza constitute a grave threat to democratic reform in the southern Mediterranean. These wars are inflicting heavy punishment on precisely those peoples who have held fully free and fair elections in the region, while eroding the legitimacy of Israel's democracy.
At the time of its "Cedar Revolution" last year, Lebanon was held up as the best example so far of democratization in the Arab world. The enthusiasm with which the international community welcomed those changes now seems all but forgotten, which is also true of recent elections in Palestine -- another longstanding international demand.
The signal being sent is clear: it is preferable that Israel, the only state in the region that abides by the rule of law, be surrounded by authoritarian regimes where political outcomes are predictable than by democratic states where Islamists may well rise to power. It happened in Palestine, and it could well happen in Egypt if free and fair free elections were held.
As a result, Arab nationalist governments feel justified in resisting serious political reform and vindicated in repressing all domestic opposition, particularly the swelling Islamist movements.
But it should now be clear to everyone that democratization in the southern Mediterranean cannot bypass Islamist movements, and that the success of that process largely depends on the degree to which their full participation in the political arena is ensured.
Of course, this requires their renouncing violence as a means of achieving power. Repressing political Islam, or attempting to "erase" Islamists militarily with total disregard for national political processes (not to mention human life), is not the answer, because it will not persuade electorates to turn away from Islamist movements. The efforts of reformist governments in the region to integrate such movements into the public sphere have been dealt a severe blow.
Democracies have long known that extreme and indiscriminate punishment -- which by definition affects friend and foe, combatant and civilian alike -- is a grave violation of international law, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has pointed out. They also know that such action fuels radicalism, leading to the kind of tragic consequences that are all too familiar nowadays.
Hezbollah is, after all, a creature of Lebanon's resistance to Israel's 1982 invasion, now trying to reassert its influence at home and in the wider region by portraying itself as a champion of the Arab-Islamic cause, namely in Palestine. Any reinforcement of its power will necessarily weaken Lebanon and the region's democratic forces.
The prolonged absence of the US from truly active engagement in the Middle East peace process is partly to blame for the current situation. For almost six years, there has been no significant US diplomatic initiative to resolve the Palestinian question or to pursue the Syrian track (Israel still occupies the Golan Heights).
Moreover, just when we were beginning to think that the Iraqi tragedy had made the limits of unilateralism and preemptive military strategies clear to all, the Bush administration encourages Israel's military action -- this time against a country that has painfully been attempting to consolidate democratic reform and to reaffirm its sovereignty in relation to Syria.
US President George W. Bush's most promising initiative, promoting democracy across the Middle East, was already dealt a crippling blow by US intervention in Iraq and the ensuing civil war there. Now the project is buried under the weight of the US' inability to protect Lebanon's fragile democracy and Palestine's democratic experiment.
The EU's feeble response to the warfare in Gaza and Lebanon has oscillated between understanding and condemnation of the disproportionate use of force by Israel -- described as "10 eyes for one" by the Finnish presidency -- thereby betraying its dependence on the US to end the violence. Europeans will have learned nothing from the damaging disunity, and thus weakness, that they displayed during the Iraq war if this conflict does not compel them to speak with one voice.
What is needed is a European initiative that is backed by a credible military deterrent, consisting of forces from the EU, Turkey and Arab countries, to be dispatched under a UN mandate to Lebanon and Gaza. Europe must not only put forward a clear demand for an immediate cease-fire and the end to Syrian and Iranian meddling in Lebanon, it must also provide the means to enforce it as well as massive support for Lebanon's reconstruction. The EU should decisively back the end of the embargo on Palestine and the creation of a Palestinian state.
A common European front could persuade the US to give Lebanon and Palestine enough time to consolidate their national democratic processes, thus isolating the radical elements of Hamas and steering Hezbollah to dissolution of its private army. With the US project in ruins, a credible European policy to delegitimize war and support democratization in its neighborhood has become essential.
Alvaro de Vasconcelos is the director of the Institute for International Affairs in Portugal.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday last week met with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) at an APEC summit in Thailand. The meeting made front-page news in Japan the following day. Three years ago, when then-Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe visited Beijing to meet with Xi, no one questioned Abe’s attitude toward China, as the conservative parties in Japan had been spearheaded by Abe. However, Kishida could easily be labeled as pro-China, as he hails from Hiroshima — a place known for its anti-war, anti-nuclear movements — and was once the director of the Japan-China Friendship Association of Hiroshima.
It is quite the irony when former British prime minister Boris Johnson — a buffoon who for far too long was taken seriously — is branded a buffoon for saying something deadly serious. Following Johnson’s withering criticism of China at a business forum in Singapore on Wednesday last week, the event’s organizer, Michael Bloomberg, apologized to attendees, saying that Johnson was “trying to be amusing rather than informative and serious.” However, Johnson’s characterization of China as a “coercive autocracy” that had showed “a candid disregard for the rule of international law” was spot-on. His comments evoked the wisdom of the Austrian-British philosopher
Although the share price of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) has fallen significantly amid concerns over worldwide inflation, US billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway spent a massive US$4.1 billion on the chipmaker’s American depositary receipts. Reporting on Buffett’s investment in TSMC, some Chinese-language media outlets have said that it would give the Taiwanese economy a shot in the arm. Although TSMC has planted its flag in various countries around the world, Taiwan is still its most important base. The US invited TSMC to set up a plant in Arizona, because it was worried that its source of cutting-edge chips would
As campaign fever for tomorrow’s local elections turns white hot, supporters of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have been going head to head on social media. The latest row was triggered by a Facebook post on Nov. 13 by songwriter and KMT supporter Liu Chia-chang (劉家昌), who rebuked United Microelectronics Corp founder Robert Tsao (曹興誠) for advocating independence. “Although you regained your ROC [Republic of China] citizenship after returning from Singapore, you continue to help the green independents by guarding their flank,” Liu wrote, adding that it was an “insult to the nation.” “When [KMT