Democracy, Arab Style

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Hanieh, center, waves to supporters during a rally to mark the 18th anniversary the founding of the Islamic group, in Gaza City, Friday Dec. 23, 2005. Hamas, led by Hanieh, is poised to score significant gains in the upcoming Jan. 25 parliamentary elections , possibly even an overall victory, in its first run for parliament as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to reunify his fractious Fatah. AP

CBS News Correspondent David Hawkins covers the Mideast for CBS News.


If you're in favor of Middle East democracy, raise your hand.

Now let me rephrase the question.

Raise your hand if you're in favor of a Palestinian state run by the terrorist group Hamas. No? How about a president of Egypt who is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the granddaddy of Islamist terrorist groups? Or a Jordan without America's most loyal Arab ally, King Abdullah?

There's a reason the U.S. has for decades supported undemocratic regimes in the Middle East while paying lip service to democracy: if there were genuinely free and fair elections, anti-American Islamists might win.

Despite all the pro-democracy rhetoric coming from Washington lately, not much has changed.

In Egypt, Ayman Nour - a democratic reformer - challenged Hosni Mubarak in the country's first presidential election earlier this year. Nour now sits in a prison cell, convicted of forgery charges. His supporters insist he's been framed by the government. During recent parliamentary elections, riot policemen encircled polling places in Muslim Brotherhood strongholds and forcibly prevented voters from casting their ballots.

Palestinian elections scheduled for late January might be postponed. The stated reason is that Israel won't let Palestinians who live in Jerusalem vote. The real reason is that everyone is afraid that Hamas might win enough seats in the Palestinian legislature to become part of a future Palestinian government and you can imagine what a headache that would be for Israel and the U.S., which insists it won't recognize Hamas at the very same time it is pushing for elections that will likely bring it to power.

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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