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06TUNIS373 2006-02-21 16:17:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Tunis
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1. Summary: Pro-democracy contacts from across the region
were shocked by the magnitude of the recent Hamas
electoral victory, but at the same time were impressed by
the genuinely democratic process. Looking at the impact
that these events could have on democratic reform in the
region, the democracy activists draw several conclusions:

-- Elections can bring real change. The sweeping
victory and acceptance of the results by Fatah send a
strong message on democracy?s potential to both
governments and people across the region.

-- Change can be a mixed bag. While activists call the
elections a ?turning point? for democratic development in
the region, they wonder about the commitment of Islamist
groups to democracy once in power.

-- Moderates aren?t ready, Islamists are. With few
exceptions across the region, moderate political forces
are in disarray and would not do well if democratic
elections were held today. Islamist groups are better
organized, with a substantive message and a loyal
constituency base.

-- Autocrats will capitalize on fear. Governments will
use the specter of Hamas?s victory to resist democratic
reform, arguing that it plays into the hands of
extremists; whereas, the long-term solution is for the
governments to open up more.

-- The USG and others need to maintain pressure on
governments to undertake real reforms and provide
assistance to moderates so that they will be able to
compete with Islamists and existing regimes. End

2. The MEPI Regional Office canvassed 16 democracy
activist contacts from across the region (Bahrain, Egypt,
Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian Territories,
Tunisia, Yemen) regarding the recent Hamas victory and
its likely impact on democratization efforts. Below are
the common themes that emerged from the responses of
these activists, most of whom have participated in BMENA-
sponsored events. Some of the views appear inconsistent,
but we believe they accurately reflect the state of the
debate taking place in civil society at the moment.


Good Election, Surprising Results


3. Our democracy contacts were unanimous in judging the
Palestinian electoral process as generally transparent
and fair. They were equally unanimous in their surprise
at the magnitude of the Hamas victory. The most common
reasons offered for the results were:

-- Hamas's victory should be seen as a vote against the
corrupt, ineffective, and chaotic governance of the
Palestinian Authority (PA). Whereas Hamas has the solid
ideological support of some 30 per cent of the
Palestinians, the rest of its support was simply a non-
ideological vote against the PA.

-- The Israeli occupation is to blame, as it gradually
destroyed the PA's infrastructure and credibility with
Palestinians. In a twist on this theme, some contacts
said the victory should therefore be seen as the
culmination of the PA?s failed attempts to achieve a
comprehensive settlement with Israel.

-- A Hamas victory could not have been possible without
the blessing of the USG, given its intelligence capacity
and influence over all the political players.


Democratic ?Turning Point?, But with a Twist


4. Several activists called the elections a ?turning
point.? They believe that Palestinians have demonstrated
that fundamental change is possible through the
democratic process. The Hamas victory, combined with
Fatah?s acceptance of the results, presents a clear
challenge to other governments in the region to accept
the principle of the people?s right to change their
governments. No one is predicting an imminent wave of
democratic reform as a result of the elections, but most
of our contacts stated that these elections were proof of
positive momentum. Some even called it ?irreversible.?

5. At the same time, the fact that Hamas was the victor
poses a dilemma for the same democracy activists ? what
to do when you like the process, but not the results.
Our contacts feel that the Hamas results, combined with
the strong showing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt?s
recent parliamentary elections, could have significant
implications throughout the region. Many of our contacts
remain highly skeptical of the Islamist commitment to
democracy once in power. They fear that the Mulsim
Brotherhood/Hamas results are galvanizing other Islamist
groups to push for more democracy in the hopes that
elections will allow them to advance their conservative


Moderates Aren?t Ready, Islamists Are


6. This fear of the Islamist forces is clearly linked to
our contacts? view of the current balance of power
between Islamists and moderates. Islamist political
parties/organizations are the most potent opposition
political force in almost all Arab countries, despite
efforts by governments to rein them in. In free and
fairly contested elections, these parties would in many
cases be elected to power. At the same time, most
governments have been successful at keeping moderate
political parties and NGOs weak and without the means of
creating a popular base. While activists admit that this
sort of competition is an aspect of democracy they must
accept, they are worried that the lack of a level playing
field could result in a domino effect and an Islamization
of the region.



Leaders Exploit Hamas Example, but Democracy IS Answer



7. Our contacts already see governments across the
region using the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas results as an
argument to ?go slow? on democracy, with the postponement
of Egyptian local elections the clearest example. They
expect autocratic governments will use the specter of the
Islamist domino effect to push back against Western
pressure to undertake serious democratic reforms. This
is the wrong conclusion to draw from the Palestinian
elections, they contend, which were a major step towards
democratic reform. The only way to defeat Islamists and
other extremists in the long run is to open up. Beyond
the ballot box, democracy requires the development of a
democratic culture, rule of law, accountable governments,
and a broad range of viable political choices, not just
autocrats vs. extremists.

8. The democracy activists we spoke to offered several
common suggestions for USG and Western governments:

-- Maintain pressure on Arab governments to democratize
their systems, including allowing all opposition groups
to operate freely.

-- Make foreign economic aid contingent on Arab
governments? efforts to democratize and the outcomes of
these efforts;

-- Provide assistance to strengthen moderate political
parties and independent civil society;

-- Maintain momentum for the reform process in BMENA;

-- Insist on independent international observers for all
future elections.