Monday, May 30, 2011

Obama hopes Tunisia will follow Poland's lead

During his recent European trip, Obama visited Poland and held it up as a model for Arab nations to follow during their political change. Now wouldn't that be wonderful? They could overthrow their oppressors, establish a vibrant democracy, turn around their economy to open capitalism, join the European community, NATO and eventually start using the Euro.

According to yesterday's Times Article Obama was serious in this hope. “It has gone through what so many countries want to now go through,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference with Prime Minister Donald Tusk. “Poland can play an extraordinary role precisely because they have they have traveled so far so rapidly over the last 25 years.”

I'm dubious. Poland has very little in common with Algeria, Tunisia or even Egypt. There has been no history of democracy in any of these countries. While Poland had a strong democracy movement in Solidarity that built its strength under the Soviet dictatorship, the only opposition force in North Africa was the Muslim Brotherhood. This is no democracy movement; life under the 'brotherhood' would resemble life in Iran more than the European West.

Poland also had a strong religious element in the Catholic church which stood as a stabilizing force that demanded democracy and didn't abuse its power once the communists were ousted. Of course, the model of the Catholic Church sharing power in a country evokes scenes of Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa as well as Southern European countries. All we have as an example of a Muslim theocracy is Iran, a frightening thought to most Americans.

But where else can we look for examples to lead the Arab countries to a stable democracy? Turkey? India? Spain? None of these countries have much in common with the North African countries. They have to forge their own path. Let's just hope it looks more like Poland than Iran.

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