Democracy and double standards

There has to be democracy in Zimbabwe, says Brown, but not in Palestine – or Saudi Arabia


“I hope that the African Union and its leaders will make it absolutely clear to Mr Mugabe that there has to be democracy, that there has to be change and a new government has got to be brought in… The so-called elections will not be recognised.” (Gordon Brown 29 June 2008)

Brown's denunciation of Robert Mugabe's re-election as illegitimate has been echoed in Europe and America. Their common theme is that democracy must be restored in Zimbabwe and all kinds of intervention, up to and including military intervention, are being discussed to bring about this essential objective.
But the US organised the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Palestine in June 2007 and that the EU leaders, who now denounce Robert Mugabe's re-election as illegitimate, supported the overthrow of that democratically elected government by the US.

That government was the product of elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in January 2006, elections that were universally accepted as having been free and fair. That government was led by Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, a party that won 44.5 per cent of the “national list” vote and 74 out of the 132 seats in the PLC elections. That government was an all-party “national unity” government, which was duly endorsed by the PLC in accordance with the Palestinian constitution. Nevertheless, these defenders of democracy in Zimbabwe supported the overthrow of that government.

Furthermore, these defenders of democracy in Zimbabwe now recognise as the legitimate government of Palestine, an entity led by Salam Fayyad, whose party won 2.4 per cent of the vote and two seats in the PLC elections.  

In terms of democratic legitimacy, Robert Mugabe is streets ahead of Salam Fayyad, since he got over 40 per cent of the vote in the initial presidential election, which may not have been as free and fair as the PLC elections, but had some claim to democratic validity.

Salam Fayyad has an advantage over Robert Mugabe: he is very popular in Washington (or he was until he wrote a letter to EU leaders recently urging it not to “upgrade” its relations with Israel, because “Israel continues to systematically violate Palestinian human rights and flaunt its international obligations”).

In the eyes of the US/EU, Robert Mugabe's crime is not that his re-election was of dubious legitimacy, but that he isn't one of their friends.  If he were, his lack of democratic credentials would be disregarded.

After all, some of the West's best friends have no democratic credentials at all, for instance, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. When Prime Minister Brown made a day trip to Jedda recently to plead with OPEC to produce more oil, he didn't mention the fact that the Saudi head of state hadn't been democratically elected. Clearly, the principle that “there has to be democracy”, which the Prime Minister insists must be applied in Zimbabwe, doesn't have to apply to friends, particularly those with lots of oil and deep pockets with which to purchase British arms.

The US/EU has a flexible approach to democracy in other states – roughly speaking, the rule is that allies need not have democratic institutions, but enemies must have, otherwise they lay themselves open to criticism at least and invasion at worst.

Problems arise when elections in otherwise friendly places unexpectedly give victory to a party that isn't an ally of the US/EU. This happened in Palestine in January 2006, and a way had to be found to negate the outcome. The US managed it in June 2007 after 18 months of concerted effort, which is detailed by David Rose in his article, ‘The Gaza Bombshell' in the April 2008 issue of Vanity Fair.

Intervention of some kind in Zimbabwe to bring about Robert Mugabe's removal from power is demanded on all sides.  From every point of view, the situation in Palestine is immeasurably worse than in Zimbabwe, and it has lasted a great deal longer.

And the situation is not improving. Over 400 Palestinians were killed in the first six months of this year, 106 in five days from 27 February to 3 March. In a report issued on 6 March 2008, a group of NGOs including Trócaire, CAFOD, Oxfam, Amnesty International and Christian Aid declared that: “The situation for 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip is worse now than it has ever been since the start of the Israeli military occupation in 1967.”

Robert Mugabe may be guilty of many things, but he is not guilty of taking over a swathe of neighbouring territory by force and colonising it, and holding on to the territory for more than 40 years against the wishes of the people who live there. Nor is he guilty of violating over 30 Security Council resolutions, most of them arising from that occupation.

But there are no calls for intervention in Palestine to put an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza — not now, and rarely at any time during the past 40 years of Israeli occupation.  It could be argued that double standards are being applied.