Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Democracy Grows Up Around Mubarak

Reflections on the Importance and Nature of Power Dispersion

Sen. Barak Obama (D), detained for several hours in Russia along with Sen. Richard Lugar (R), speculated that the problem was "disperse centers of power" (heard on NPR). Who knows what it was really about. You could probably write a passel of spy novels explaining it in different ways. Considering that Vladimir Putin has been recently accused of just the opposite problem, eliminating independence of Russia's component regions, there remains something to explain. Putin’s problem in this case is more aptly described as the residue, and possibly re-emergence, of the Soviet mentality. Everybody is terrified of being wrong. Much safer, politically, to let the Americans sit on the runway than to allow them to take off without the right permissions.

Putin cannot afford to let power devolve in such a way that individual states can think about separating. He apparently feels that he can also not allow criticism of his actions [Ed: most of Kasparov links are gone, but try this one] to exceed certain limits, pretty narrow limits. What does Russia have going for it in terms of democracy development? Well they have a theoretical structure and a history of brave dissenters. Not much else. What they miss in particular is the retail versions of democracy and the concept of functional independence that grace much of the remainder of the planet. The Soviet Union was so rigidly and obsessively centralized that people have no experience with self-determination at any level. Meetings of their version of the boy scouts were subject to orders from the Kremlin.

One reason that President Bush is the most powerful leader in the world is that there are a whole lot of things he doesn’t have to attend to. He might have some say over what happens at National Airport, but most airports are run by their own sets of rules, accountable to a variety of different entities for different aspects of their activities. He concentrates his efforts in areas where the people have determined that it is necessary for the federal government to exercise authority. He doesn’t have to get the snowplows out to clear the streets of Washington. He might wish for the authority to name Ted Kennedy’s replacement, but he’s really better off without it. (BTW, Massachusetts gets a lot of snow.)

Egypt has never been oppressed, except by poverty, to as great an extent as Russia. Various organic institutions within Egypt have co-existed with despotic central rule. Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak never had, nor did they seem to desire, the kind of thought control that was imposed on the Russian People for seven decades. Think about it. Do you know of any good Russian bloggers? (Let me know if you do.) I look at four different Egyptian bloggers almost every day. Moreover, I do not think that the general pessimism about the chances for democracy in the Arab World is warranted. In this regard, the Egyptian blogger, "Baheyya", has posted a very upbeat article emphasizing the plausible independence of the judiciary in Egypt and a democracy movement among the judges. Apparently, this is a segment of society that self-organizes and is fortunately relatively non-threatening to Mubarak. It is a functional dispersion of power, non-partisan but powerful within its scope. It is also a very hopeful sign.

8/31/2005 2:17 AM

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