by Daniel Mann
Special to WJW
With a revolutionary wave sweeping across the Arab world, a sense of optimism has developed as citizens rise up against tyranny in an attempt to bring about democratic ideals to the Middle East. But if the Arabs want to see democracy take root in their countries, they've got a lot to learn - and they better learn fast.
Unfortunately, the Arab world has not one viable model of democracy to emulate. The new Iraqi democracy (a product of American force) is so young and unstable that she is at best, a "maybe." As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said, "Locke and Montesquieu are not exactly household names there yet."
The lack of enlightenment ideals in the region means the Arab world has a long way to go before realizing true democracy. The Arabs need to understand that true democracy is not simply holding noncorrupt elections, but having democratic ideals such as freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom to assemble, etc. Perhaps, most important, however, is the need for institutions that protect these democratic values.
The situation in the Arab world makes clear the lack of such institutions. In Egypt, for example, a power struggle has ensued between newly elected President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the radical Muslim Brotherhood, his political wing in parliament and the Military's Supreme Constitutional Court. If the Arab world wants to see democracy take root, it is essential that credible and viable institutions are put in place that can protect basic democratic ideals and solve such disputes.
To do this, Arab countries must depart from their historical rhetoric of hate against democratic powers and begin to learn from and follow their lead. Perhaps the one country they could learn most from is the democracy next door - Israel.
Israel may be their sworn enemy, but if the Arab people want democracy, they must stop looking at Israel as an embodiment of all that they hate, and begin looking at her as a model for what they could become.
Israel is a vibrant and full-fledged democracy. Like the U.S., Israel honors and protects free elections, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and the rights of women, gays and all minorities. Israel is the only Middle Eastern country in which Arab women receive full rights. And although she is a Jewish state, Israel even has an Arab member of the Supreme Court - a true democratic institution that often limits the power and scope of the government.
The road to democracy is going to be a long one. There is no denying that the Arabs are moving in the right direction, but more than a year since revolutions began, the Arab world has hit one of many road blocks to come. Whether or not those countries can maneuver around such obstacles remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that the great democracy of Israel can lead the way and if the Arabs want to create a bright future for themselves, the Middle East and indeed the entire world, all they need to do is follow her lead.
Daniel Mann is from Minneapolis, Minn. He is a summer media fellow at The Israel Project, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., and will be a junior at the University of Wisconsin in the fall.