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.