October 12, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9584

Lebanese Journalist: The Vacuum Left By The U.S. Withdrawal From The Region Strengthens Non-Democratic Players, Undermines Hope Of Establishing Democracy In Middle East

October 12, 2021
Lebanon | Special Dispatch No. 9584

In his September 27, 2021column in the London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Lebanese journalist and pollical analyst Sam Mansa voiced concern for the fate of democracy in the Middle East, which he said was in decline after the failure of the Arab Spring uprisings and in the wake of the U.S. decision to diminish its involvement in the region. He directed pointed criticism the U.S., saying that it lacks a vision for establishing and cementing freedoms and democracy in the world. Its political and military withdrawal, he said, leaves a vacuum in the region, which is being filled by non-democratic players like Russia, Iran, Turkey and China; these players, in turn, are cultivating inexperienced local forces that choose tyranny as their form of government. He concluded by saying that the region's only hope is that the younger generation, influenced by globalization and social media, will be attracted by democracy and act to strengthen it.  

Sam Mansa (Source:

The following are translated excerpts from his column:[1]

"What Still Remains Of Parliamentary Democracy [In The Arab World] Is Now In Decline" 

"An anti-democratic wave appears to be sweeping the Arab republics, especially the countries of the Mashreq [i.e., the Arab countries of the eastern Mediterranean Basin, as opposed to North Africa].  I am not talking about the many obstacles that hinder democratic change across the Arab world, but about the fate of democracy in the [Arab] regimes and republics that chose it as their banner and have touted [the democratic character] of their rule... 

"First, [let me say that] democracy has no doubt lost much of its luster in the Western democracies, and its flaws have become apparent. But despite this, let me stress that there is no alternative to democracy, and we must commend the stability of its institutions, and the determination of citizens [in democratic countries] to fight all plots to circumvent it, to constantly purge it of radicalism, whether from the left or from the right, and to amend its flaws by underscoring [their] commitment to it.  We must also admit that democracy cannot be taken for granted: it does not arise automatically, but takes time to become established, both in documents and in the hearts of the people.

"What concerns us here is the growing indications that what still remains of parliamentary democracy [in the Arab world] is now in decline, as is happening in Lebanon, or in other countries that showed promise of establishing [democracy] after the Arab Spring, such as Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Tunisia, Sudan, Yemen and others.  In practice, Syria only extended the tyrannical rule of the Assad family [by granting Assad] a fourth term in office in a mock-election – and this in a burning country whose revolution has cost over half a million lives and [produced] nine million refugees and displaced persons. Palestine has canceled its elections, or shall we say postponed them, so that the PA continues to be almost absent from the domestic and foreign political [arenas] – and this at a crucial time for the future of the Palestinian people and their cause. To this let us add the movements of political Islam, which do not display any affection for democracy anywhere, and the elections in Iraq, slated for October 10 [2021], which may be postponed or cancelled, or may be rigged. Those who follow and understand the ins and outs of Iraqi policy know that the future of [Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa] Al-Kadhimi is in danger, in light of the power [gained by] the Iran-backed [Shi'ite] militias and the role they play.

As for Sudan, which is in an interim stage, [with a regime] comprising both civilian and military elements – it has recently experienced an attempted coup, reflecting the conflict between these two camps. And Tunisia is contending with a political and constitutional crisis, as part of which the parliament's powers have been suspended and the parliament members and speaker have lost their immunity and all their privileges." 

In Lebanon, Democratic Institutions Are Controlled By The Most Raucously Anti-Democratic Forces

"[But] the most conspicuous and frustrating example of the atrophy of democracy is [provided by] Lebanon, a country that has long prided itself on being a notable exception in the Arab homeland: [a country] that has embraced liberal democracy and the separation of powers. Lebanon is now in decline, and people believe that its democracy has become a [mere] cover for corruption and the corrupt, and for the undermining of [the state's] sovereignty, government and law. Lebanon has now become similar to [other] Arab republics that maintain the semblance of democracy while consistently emptying it of content, and depleting their institutions of civil values and [democratic] liberties, turning them into mere shells… It seems that the elements controlling [Lebanon's] democratic regime are the elements that are most raucous and clear in their hostility to democracy. 

"In this context, we should note Morocco as an exception, for the results of its elections indicate that its democracy has recovered. We will not include Israel in this list, although it managed… [following its last] election, to form a government of consent that overthrew the foolish politics of Binyamin Netanyahu, who had been in power for over a decade.

"All this is happening amid two important developments in the region:

"1. Disappointment over the waning Arab Spring and the catastrophes that came in its wake, without going into the reasons that caused them.

"2. The political and military withdrawal of the U.S. from the region, and the attempts of non-democratic regional and international players to fill the vacuum it left. The most prominent players in this context are Russia, Iran and the non-state actors allied with it, and Turkey, as well as China, [whose presence in the region] is not military, so far. All these countries disregard the democratic principles of coalition and opposition, the separation of the powers, the establishment of constitutional and legal institutions, accountability and responsibility, and respect for collective and individual freedoms."

"The World's Mightiest Country Lacks The Vision Needed To [Promote] Freedoms And Democracy"

"Amid these changes… we heard the speech of U.S. President Joe Biden at the UN General Assembly, calling to 'focus on the global challenge of the regimes that oppose democracy' and 'opening a new era of relentless diplomacy', and stressing that the U.S. is 'a reliable ally of its partners.'[2] His speech made no mention of the force that must attend diplomacy, to make it effective and useful! [He said all this] before the ink had even dried on the agreement [between the U.S.] and the Taliban, and while the U.S. continues to chase after Iran in an attempt to appease it and bring it back to the nuclear agreement. All this proves once again that the world's mightiest country lacks the vision needed to [promote] freedoms and democracy.

"Leaving a region like the Middle East to contend with its fate while it is falling into the hands of  regimes [that only] spout hollow slogans of democracy, and when some of the states and their elites are compelled to turn to other forces to fill the vacuum left by the Americans, is a move that arouses great concern for the future of the region and its peoples, and for the future of the young generation. [I] do not mean that these countries cannot manage their affairs without foreign patronship. The problem is that the local elites and forces cultivated by the non-democratic powers, which are taking over the government and the centers of decision-making, lack knowledge and experience, and as a result are incapable of running the country except through tyranny and usurpation. This can prolong the dark crises that prevail in the Mashreq, as we are seeing in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen and elsewhere. 

"Will the young generation, inevitably influenced by [our] modern times, by globalism and by social media, be any different?? Will it be attracted to the values of democracy and be able to reverse the trend of renouncing them?? This, perhaps, is the only source of hope and optimism left in our region."  


[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 27, 2021.

[2]  It should be noted that some of the quotes attributed to Biden here do not match the original text of the speech. See, September 21, 2021.

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