Friday, November 25, 2011

What Do Totalitarians Do When They Gain Power Democratically?

What Do Totalitarians Do When They Gain Power Democratically?

By Barry Rubin

In the last scene of the film “The Candidate,” about a U.S. Senate election, the victorious candidate expresses American cynicism about politics by asking, “What do we do now?” The idea is that politicians just want to get into power but have no idea of how to deal with problems or even a coherent worldview. Soon deadlock will set in and nothing is really going to change.  It is the sarcasm fit for an open, non-ideological system where individual ambition prevails.  But as long as there’s always another election, we know that things will be all right and life will be tolerable.

Not so in the Arabic-speaking Middle East.  These politicians know precisely what they want to do: seize state power (albeit by peaceful means, if possible), fundamentally transform their societies, and hold onto state power forever. And they are capable of changing things a lot.

Naïve Western officials, journalists, and “experts” think that an electoral victory for the Islamists is just fine and dandy. They will obey the rules; be worn down by the necessary compromises of democratic politics; have to focus their efforts on collecting garbage, running schools, and fixing roads; and then another election will come along and things will always be all right.

They come close to saying: Ha, ha, ha! They’re in power? So what can they possibly do with control over the state and all of its resources to change anything significantly? There are democratic rules after all!

That’s not how it works.

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