Sunday, July 31, 2005

Tom Friedman On Middle Eastern Political Parties

In the New York Times, Tom Friedman talks about the spent political parties of the Middle East, struggling to go from parties of National Liberation to delivering the nuts and bolts of government.
All Fall Down

Published: July 29, 2005

In visiting Gaza and Israel a few weeks ago, I realized how much the huge drama in Iraq has obscured some of the slower, deeper but equally significant changes happening around the Middle East. To put it bluntly, the political parties in the Arab world and Israel that have shaped the politics of this region since 1967 have all either crumbled or been gutted of any of their original meaning. The only major parties with any internal energy and coherence left today are Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, and they are scared out of their minds - scared that if all the secular parties collapse, they may have to rule, and they don't have the answers for jobs, sewers and electricity.

He puts Israel's Likud and Labor within this group, which might anger some, but which is spot-on. There is a perverse co-dependence between the likes of Likud and its mortal enemies in the PLO, Hizbollah, as well as Syrian Baath Party.

The big challenge for all these societies is obvious: Can they reconstitute these old parties or build new ones that can make the task and narrative of developing their own countries - making their people competitive in an age when China and India and Ireland are eating their lunch - as emotionally gripping as fighting Israel or the West or settling the West Bank?

The Rest Here

Samuel Huntington, before he went goofy over immigration, did write that strong political parties - broadly representative - were a necessary pre-condition to political stability. What happens when you are left with shells of parties or unstable coalitions, and there is a seismic shift in popular attitudes?

EDIT: Judith at Sullivan's blog has complained that Friedman HAS A MAJOR BLIND SPOT, when it comes to Israeli political parties.

: He fails to understand the differences between democracies and tyrannies and, therefore, between Israel and the PA. In democracies, at election time, it's always the economy, stupid. So, economic well being has always been important to Israeli governments, be they Labor or Likud. In fact, as Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters yesterday,

"We are in the midst of a big revolution, and Israel is becoming well-known in the international economy. We are growing faster than most developing economies in the world."
The countries to compare Israel with is not the PA but Ireland and India. Not only are the three former British colonies engaged in a lengthy territorial conflict but they are also in the midst of a politically controversial but economically successful transformation from socialist to liberal economic systems.

Innovation is also the product of liberal democracies. Israel is a leading innovator and so is India. Indeed, the Israeli-Indian rapprochement is based in a large part on technological cooperation. China has to steal technology.

Democracies are messy but they work. I know that when one watches "Jaywalking," one cannot but wonder. I believe the electorate is engaged in a mass exercise of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

In other words, democracies are not only moral, they are practical.
posted by Judith

Israel is a democracy for mostly its Jewish citizens, and Israeli Arabs. The obvious issue here is the exclusion of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, who are in perpetual limbo. And that is a result of what Friedman himself has described as the 'de-personalization' of the Palestinians as a people, by both Labour and Likud, and fears of an Arabic majority. In that sense this is not Ireland, or India, it would be like if Pakistan and India had not been partitioned, and Pakistani's were under military occupation by India and Pakistani's were not allowed to vote.


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