Adopting a Middle Eastern Model, Americans Have Become Infatuated with Crowd Politics

For the past week, the president, his press secretary, and the media have been consumed by a debate over how many people attended the inauguration. Enthusiasts of the anti-Trump women’s marches that took place across the country have likewise boasted about the numbers of participants, posting photographs declaring that “this is what democracy looks like.” To Lee Smith, this newfound passion for head-counting reflects less the democratic traditions of the U.S. than the mob-driven and party- or regime-manipulated politics of the Arab world:

[T]he talk about crowds is a sign of how American perceptions and expectations have been subtly and pervasively altered by our engagement with the undemocratic, and traditionally autocratic, Arab societies of the Middle East, especially since the beginning of the Arab Spring uprisings a little more than six years ago. Certainly, those bloody events should have reminded us that the politics of the ballot box are preferable to the politics of the street. But that’s not what happened. Instead, the massive protest movements of the Arab Spring were regarded across the American political spectrum, left and right, as genuine outpourings of democratic feeling. . . .

In fact, journalists, analysts, and policymakers got Egypt wrong three times in a little more than two years because they believed that numbers matter—and that crowds signal democracy. But that’s not how it happens in places like Egypt, where democratic practices and traditions are scarce. Numbers matter in the Third World because they are the mechanism by which a party or faction shows its strength—and seeks to intimidate others. If you’re in the minority faction, unless you own the preponderance of weapons, you have to back down. Your life depends on being able to count.

Crowd politics is the opposite of electoral politics. In democratic societies, crowd politics are generally hostile to electoral politics and procedural government, and often presage their destruction. . . .

Mass demonstrations are not a sign of a healthy democracy. Rather, as signs at the march more correctly advertised on Saturday, they are a symbol and a means of “resistance.” Adopting and retooling Arab tropes like “resistance”—often armed and typically directed at Israel—is hardly a new fashion for the progressive camp. . . . The Arabs became the culture of resistance par excellence. They have resisted everything, and now are paying dearly for it. If the people of Syria had a choice, would they have chosen “resistance” half a century ago—or a different way to get along with their neighbors, domestic and foreign? Would they not prefer to resolve their political disputes at the ballot box rather than in the kill zones of Aleppo? This is not what democracy looks like—but it is how crowd politics often ends.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Arab Spring, Democracy, Donald Trump, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law