Arab world gets a taste of true democracy

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Arab world gets a taste of true democracy

BY RAY HANANIA
Saudi Gazette Sunday May 27, 2012

Oh, the Egyptian people don’t know what is in store for them as they forge ahead with “real democracy”. Democracy comes with its benefits, such as free speech, freedom, one person, one vote mandates, and government that is “accountable”.

But it also has its downsides. In fact there are so many downsides to democracy, one wonders if the word “democracy” is real or just an illusion.

The United States is often touted as the blueprint for democracy, the one place where democracy was born, raised, reared and even molded. But it is also manipulated and muddied. For example, people in America claim they are free, but they really are not free at all. They live by two sets of laws, one written in the US Constitution, and the other written by the “media,” a collection of corrupted institutions that promote hatred and pander to stereotypes and this includes the news media, the Hollywood movie media, the advertising media and the political campaign media.

One set of laws defends the rights of Americans. It’s called the US Constitution. The other set of laws are those adopted by the US Congress, which more often than not spends a lot of time denying individuals their rights. Just this past week, we witnessed true democracy in action on the streets of Chicago where hundreds of thousands of Americans gathered to exercise their right to free speech and expression against NATO and its policies of promoting wars. Of course, the protesters were denied their rights, pushed into remote areas to protest and arrested when they did not move out of the way of the police. Not that anyone cares about them, though.

No one knows what they were supposedly protesting about. It was never clear.

Elections are even more frightening. America has one of the most sophisticated (actually confusing) election systems in the world. They have a multi-party system, but no one recognizes any of the political parties except the two major ones, the Democratic Party, which isn’t very democratic, and the Republican party, which doesn’t like most of the people in the American republic.

These two major parties get all the media coverage and are given seats in public debates, while candidates from other parties are shunned, ignored and marginalized by the news media, of course, and excluded from the public debates. Americans vote twice, once in each of two elections. The first election is to select who can represent the major parties. The Democrats pick their leaders and the Republicans pick their leaders. Sometimes third parties make it into the competition, but not often. Then, the winners of the two major party elections, called “primaries,” run against each other. This year’s presidential election has multi-millionaire Mitt Romney representing the Republican Party and President Barack Obama representing the Democratic Party.

It’s not about who gets the most votes, either. It is about who wins the most states. There are 50 states and each state gets a special “electoral vote”. When you win a state, you win that state’s electoral votes. The candidate with the most electoral votes becomes the next president. That’s why in 2000, George W. Bush was elected president over Al Gore, the former Democratic Vice President, even though Gore had more total popular votes in the country. So in reality, “majority vote” does not rule at all in a real democracy.

Then there is the issue of money. Only candidates with millions of dollars in personal wealth can actually make it to the top of the election heap to run for office. They have to buy advertising, and advertising – a major part of the media – costs a lot of money. This year, the candidates for president will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to win the presidential race. That means poor people who might have better ideas don’t stand a chance of ever being elected president in America.

Oh, and you know how Americans are always bashing Arabs and Muslims for the way they “abuse” women? Well, the truth is Americans are no different. They just do it with what we call “spin,” the process of saying one thing but meaning something else. Yes, that is a key aspect of American democracy. You say one thing but you don’t mean it. If you are good at it and spend a lot of money on Public Relations (PR), it’s not called a lie, even though “spin” is just another word for lying.

In America, women are oppressed too, which is why we have never had a female president or vice president of the United States. We “exploit” minorities and say how much we want to help them, but we really don’t mean it. It’s that thing called “spin” again.

But the most important part of democracy is that not only do you get to lie about how good you are as a candidate, but you can say all kinds of nasty things about your opponent. Politicians are exempt from libel laws.

So most of the money spent on election campaigns funds negative advertising, name calling and “attack ads”. And guess what, the surveys show that “negative” campaigns and “attack ads” are very effective in convincing Americans how to cast their vote. Yes, the Egyptian people and the Middle East are just beginning to understand democracy, and how muddy freedom can really be.

— Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist and radio talk show host. Reach him at www.RadioChicagoland.com __

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.

Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.

Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com