Voices from the Arab press: Is American democracy doomed to fail?

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 THE US Capitol building is blanketed with snow, in Washington, January 4. (photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)
THE US Capitol building is blanketed with snow, in Washington, January 4.
(photo credit: TOM BRENNER/REUTERS)


Al-Ittihad, UAE, January 13

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The attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and its aftermath in political life contributed to the growing literature on the fate of democracies in the 21st century. Could the United States soon lose its basic liberties? And how could that happen? What are the lessons we can draw from history?

The most frightening historical analogy that is often referred to is the fall of the Weimar Republic in Germany and the rise to power of Adolf Hitler by legal means in 1933.

According to this “Hitler scenario,” political chaos in the United States, coupled with the ongoing pandemic, growing partisanship in Congress, and uncertainty about the future of the economy could lead to a disputed presidential election in 2024, in which both Democrats and Republicans claim victory and accuse each other of fraud. This could easily be followed by violence, and Donald Trump being reelected.

Under these circumstances, many believe that a Trump administration would strive to secure all the control necessary to prevent serious and genuine opposition and proceed as an authoritarian dictatorship.

An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of US President Donald Trump gather in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington, US, January 6, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of US President Donald Trump gather in front of the US Capitol Building in Washington, US, January 6, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)

Attention must be drawn here to the fact that prominent historians and political analysts are increasingly using this analogy, and that is why it must be taken seriously.

The Weimar Republic was founded in Germany in 1918, at the end of World War I, and its early years were marked by an economic crisis due to the financial reparations imposed on Germany by the victorious Allies under the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919.

But from 1924 to 1929, the republic began to grow and flourish, becoming a liberal democracy boasting arts and culture, such as cinema, theater, painting, and sculpture. Similarly, women enjoyed emancipation, and alternative lifestyles were accepted.

However, the collapse of the New York Stock Exchange in September 1929 led to a global recession, so global trade declined, and unemployment skyrocketed everywhere.

In Germany, these conditions strengthened both right-wing and far-left parties that increasingly engaged in street battles to achieve their goals. These were the circumstances in which the old political elite of Germany’s conservative class offered Adolf Hitler the chancellery of the “Reich” in the hope that he would stop the left-wing Communist parties. They believed that Hitler wouldn’t last long, and that he would be quickly replaced by someone else.

Critics of the US Republican Party say that in 2016, the leadership of the party establishment accepted Donald Trump as the party’s leader, and never thought he would be able to win the election and become president.

But the big difference between the United States today and Germany in 1933 is that the American economy is currently booming, with unemployment at its lowest level in decades.

However, if these conditions change and a global recession affects all major economies again, the political conditions for Trump’s return will be more present.

Perhaps the most disturbing element in the current US political system is the common and effective propaganda of Trump supporters who argue that the latter won the 2020 election, and thus Joe Biden is not the legitimate president of the country. Despite hundreds of Republican election challenges that have been dismissed in courts, the so-called big lie that the election was stolen is now accepted by a majority of the 70 million Americans who voted for Trump.

Against this backdrop, all states with Republican-controlled legislatures passed thousands of new laws to ensure that any other closely held elections would be overseen by party officials with the power to invalidate the popular vote, if necessary.

Given that elections in the United States are conducted with great transparency, there is no doubt that any attempts by Republicans to harass, challenge or even reject legitimate votes will lead to a constitutional crisis and perhaps to violence. This is because when the rule of law is abandoned by one side, the path to authoritarianism becomes clear. – Jeffrey Kemp 


An-Nahar, Lebanon, January 15

Three months separate France from the first presidential election cycle scheduled for April 10, and President Emmanuel Macron has yet to reveal his decision on whether he will vie for another five-year term in office.

According to all opinion polls, it is expected that Macron will be in the second round of the elections on April 24, against one of the three right-wing candidates: the candidate of the Republican Party, Valérie Pécresse, the head of the far-right National Rally, Marine Le Pen, or the far-right Éric Zemmour.

According to recent polls, Macron has the support of 43% of French voters – a high level of support compared to the presidents who preceded him at the end of their term. In January 2012, Nicolas Sarkozy had 36% of popular support, while Socialist François Hollande ended his term with 26% of popular support.

Macron, who is taking his time to announce his candidacy for a second term, will not face any candidate from the Left, which has become scattered and weakened. Currently, there are over nine candidates on the Left, who refuse to hold primaries that will unite their camp under one popular candidate.

It should be noted that Islam and Muslims in France are the No. 1 enemy of Zemmour, a Jew of Algerian origin. Whenever he talks about his fear of France’s deterioration because of foreigners and Islam, he says: “If we continue as we are, France will become a second Lebanon by 2050.” In an interview with Léa Salamé on France Inter radio, Zemmour confirmed that if elected president, he would force all French people of Muslim and foreign origin to change their first names.

As for Le Pen, she claims that immigrants have taken the place of the French people, and her campaign is based on the intimidation of migrants. Le Pen often attacks Zemmour and advises him to unite with her party, while Zemmour attacks Pécresse and Macron and claims that there is no difference between the two parties.

Despite the severe criticism directed at Macron that he exaggerates his arrogant behavior and that he does not listen to anyone, not even his ministers, he is still the most likely to win another term, because he managed the coronavirus crisis pretty effectively.

Foreign policy issues are secondary to the French people, who prioritize the economy. Therefore, Macron’s opponents can use foreign issues to try and outdo him, such as his lack of success in Lebanon, Libya and Mali, or France’s and the EU’s absence in the talks between the United States and Russia over Ukraine. However, these issues will not play a pivotal role in determining the identity of the next French president.

Macron had increased the criticism of his opponents when he said that he imposed the “health passport” (a national proof of vaccination system) to anger anti-vaxxers. However, the pushback didn’t lead to any major changes in opinion polls, and Macron’s support remained the same.

The question now is, therefore, when will the president decide to finally reveal his decision and inform the public about his intentions in the next presidential elections? – Randa Taqi al-Din

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.