Voters in the Palestinian territories voted for an Islamic extremist movement. It was a free and fair election. Does this invalidate the push for democracy in the Arab world? No. This result was in part the legacy of 30 years of tyranny and kleptocracy by Yasser Arafat. The Palestinians were aching to reject the corrupt reign of Fatah, yet the only vehicle available to express their displeasure was Hamas. Now the key question is: Will there be a second election? Or a third? If so, then Hamas may well be held accountable. If not, it is hard to see how the election we just witnessed makes things any worse. If nothing else, it offers a measure of clarity to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Fatah was committed to violence and terror against Israel but claimed not to be. Hamas is at least direct about it. Even the most self-deluded Israeli will have trouble imagining he sees a "partner for peace" in Hamas (though Europe will no doubt sanitize Hamas within a few months and demand that Israel negotiate with them).
Voters in Iran have long since tired of their clerical masters (to put it mildly). Yet their elections have not been free. The contest that brought Ahmadinejad to the presidency was a rigged affair, with the mullahs disqualifying hundreds of candidates (including all the women) who would have sought office. The mullahs cannot permit free elections because their Islamic Republic would be soundly rejected.
The communist junta that controlled Nicaragua between 1979 and 1988 didn't want to permit free elections either. Communists never do. But severe international pressure, specifically from their Central American neighbors, and military pressure from the Contras, forced them to accede. It was the first and last free election in a communist country. The Sandinistas lost big.
For decades, the American government took a benevolent view of the authoritarian (and in some cases totalitarian) governments of the Middle East. They did so in the name of stability. The result was an incubator of terrorism. Democracy will not easily take root in that rocky soil, but the Iraqis and Afghans who proudly display their ink-stained fingers are a rebuke to those who sniff that it's a fool's errand.
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