The phenomenon of hijacking democracy is influencing individuals in groups toward a particular way of thinking that contradicts the democratic political code of ethics underlying the pillars of democracy. These changing policies are undermining the pillars of democracy and the powers of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches that rest on checks and balances. It is these checks and balances that make democracy an efficient vehicle to uphold the rule of law, equality, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness by limiting the power held by any single branch. Negating one of these powers would undermine the pillars of democracy and do immeasurable harm.
Marvin Kulb published a statement on July 22, 2021, regarding the pillars of democracy, he stated that two pillars of democracy must stand firm. The first is the “sanctity of the law,” and the other is the “freedom of the press,” if those pillars are shaken, damaged, or undermined, democracy is no more and the country may fall into a state of tyranny.
In many conflicts, democracies were hijacked by armies, political parties, presidents, and frequently nationalists and radicals with nationalreligious aspirations that undermine democracy for their political and religious agendas. In many situations they transform democracy into fascist policies, such as what happened in Germany in 1930, when a democracy deteriorated into fascism, as is happening today in other countries such as Myanmar. There, after a period of democratization that began in 2010, the military seized power in February 2021 and created a tyranny that is ruling with a military fist, triggering a humanitarian crisis that will damage democracy for years to come.
Nationalism as Motive for Hijacking Democracy
Hijacking democracy usually happens when a democratically elected member of a political party of the country amends pillars of democracy to legitimize policies, disregarding and contradicting the rule of law and the code of ethics that hold elected officials to high standards of ethical conduct based on democratic values.
Hijacking democracy starts by electing radical nationalists, military, and political parties aspiring to protect the nationalist identity of the country. They use democratic tools to implement radical objectives, whether in the political, cultural, or economic sphere. They end up damaging the pillars and ethical values of democracy in order to foster and maintain their nationalist objectives and agendas.
The Case of Egypt
An example of hijacking democracy was the Islamic Brotherhood movement in Egypt, it gained power through democratic elections in which it ran as the Freedom and Justice Party. Its leader, Mohamed Morsi, became Egypt’s first democratically elected president, and he introduced a new constitution that gave more power to the Muslim Brotherhood movement by increasing the powers of the executive and undermining all other pillars of democracy. It also damaged the judiciary as well as the military by releasing Islamic militants from jail. Consequently, a mass protest movement arose which Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood tried to suppress. They rejected calls for new elections and issued presidential decrees that violated the democratic code of ethics
Following days of mass antigovernment protests and Morsi’s rejection of a request from the generals to resolve Egypt’s worst political crisis since Hosni Mubarak was deposed in 2011, the military deposed Morsi. Four months later, he went on trial alongside 14 senior figures from the Muslim Brotherhood movement for incitement to murder a journalist and two protesters and ordering the torture and unlawful detention of others.
Morsi was eventually convicted and sentenced to death, but his sentence was later overturned. He died in prison while his retrial was underway. The Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed, and General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the military revolt against him, was elected president in 2014.
The Case of Iraq
Another hijacking of democracy took place in Iraq, as described by Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie, on April 8, 2021. The elections of 2005 were fought under a sectarian banner after creating a new constitution that explicitly forbade discrimination based on religion or sect. The government was to be led by a Shia (implicitly Islamist) prime minister, the president was to be a Kurd, and the speaker of parliament a Sunni Arab. A system called Muhasasa, meaning “apportionment,” was established, but the crucial feature of this system was that all the major political parties had a share in government. In a democratic political system, a party or coalition would be either in government or in opposition, power checking for the pillars of democracy and holding the government accountable. In Iraq, no major political party was out of government, and the political struggle was reduced to fighting over a bigger slice of the same cake. It was a foregone conclusion, however, that Shia Islamists were in charge, sharing the government with only two other parties and blocking any others with the support of their militias. The hijacking of democracy in Iraq undermined the pillars of democracy by dividing rule between the Kurds (represented by the KDP and PUK) and the Shias (represented by DP and SCIRI), fortifying the autonomy enjoyed by Iraqi Kurdistan in exchange for sectarian Shi’a domination in the rest of Iraq. This sharing of power became the blueprint for a new political order that reduced the space for secular democratic politics and damaged the democracy that was built by the West invasion of Iraq.
Many of the parties in Iraq were supported by the gradual establishment of powerful armed militias loyal to Tehran. Through its affiliation to the Iraqi parties, the Iranian political system started to hijack Iraqi democracy to promote its own agendas. Thus, no more democracy.
The Case of Israel-Palestine
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has gone through different phases. The signing of the Oslo Accords was neither a reconciliation process nor a peace process. Oslo became a decree of governments representing nations on how to resolve their conflict, defining a solution based on two democratic states. Without a reconciliation or peace process, however, democracy will not prevail in either nation and the two-state solution will be weakened.
Hijacking the pillars of democracy emanates from both nations by national-religious radicals. It started with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and political parties who sought to maintain nationalist-religious ideologies with the support of radicals among their people, interfering with the development of a viable, democratic Palestinian state alongside the democratic State of Israel. On the Palestinian side, we have Hamas, a radical nationalist-religious party which does not recognize the State of Israel. On the Israeli side, the Religious Zionism alliance identified with the radical settlers is said to support acts of terror against the Palestinians. It undermines the rule of law, justice, equality, and the freedom of millions of Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).
For its part, Israel replaced the name West Bank with the biblical name Judea and Samaria, which is not recognized by the United Nations. It denies basic rights to the Palestinians in the West Bank, keeping them under military rule and arguing that the military is there to maintain security. Another act done by Israel was the unilateral disengagement from Gaza. This created a vacuum in which radical political groups thrived, enabling tyranny to prevail with the support of many policies accepted by the radical political parties in both Israel and in the OPT.
On the Palestinian side, the leadership conducted an election where two rival political parties – the radical Hamas, which was tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, and the pragmatic Fateh – faced off. Hamas won the election and started introducing policies that undermined the democratic pillars and establishing their dominance in Gaza. The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank responded with decrees meant to defend the powers of the Palestinian parliament and stop Hamas from altering the laws in order to establish its rule throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, creating a division between Gaza and the West Bank and a rift between Hamas and Fateh that has not yet been healed despite ongoing attempts at reconciliation. Democracy in the OPT is no more.
Hijacked Democracy in Israel and Palestine
After 20 years of hijacking Palestinian democracy by Israeli and Palestinian radicals, today’s status quo of occupation or apartheid is designed to protect the Jewish settlers and radical religious parties. The radicals among the settlers are nationalist religious who are willing to eliminate any race or make them live in fear with no rule of law, no justice, no equality, no freedom, and no pursuit of happiness. According to them, there is no Palestinian identity, no Palestinian history, and no Nakba, only no man’s lands.
The democratic parties in Israel did not uphold democracy in the OPT, assuming that Israeli democracy would not be harmed. After nearly completing their mission in the OPT, undermining United Nations resolutions, removing the rule of law and Palestinian’ rights, and applying military rule, only Jews living in the OPT enjoy human rights. Therefore, what we now have in the OPT is apartheid rule, with no horizon for a peace process. For the radicals in Israel supporting those policies, the mission has been accomplished.
Following the recent Israeli elections, they came to power and set out to weaken the judicial system in Israel, which would weaken the pillars of democracy. Israel’s democracy, like all democracies, is not immune, and it is being hijacked by radicals just as it was hijacked in Palestine and in many other countries.
Radicals, who identify with national-religious aspirations, are enemies of democracy and will never uphold it. They start with undermining the code of ethics, then attack the judicial pillar, then enlist the military to take control of power, and finally develop a tyranny in the country that cannot be fixed for many years to come.
Need for Reconciliation
I have worked in reconciliation and peace research for many years, and I have seen how Israelis and Palestinians tried to develop mechanisms for a reconciliation process in developing their democracies. These democracies, however, became weak democracies that radicals with fascist objectives can hijack. As Israelis continued to focus on maintaining their security in the OPT, the radicals grew stronger and damaged pillars of democracy for both nations in Israel and in the Palestine.
A peace process with no reconciliation mechanism to uphold democratic values and a code of ethics will not succeed, and fascist policies and regimes will prevail. In such a situation, there will be no peace not only between the Palestinians and Israelis but among themselves.
Electing radicals with nationalreligious aspirations will never make a nation great. They will destroy and transform the nation into a tyrant. The elephant in the room in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that no democracy for one nation means no democracy for two nations.
A reconciliation mechanism is needed to uphold democracy in Israel and in Palestine. Without it, no democracy can be achieved. A reconciliation process is essential if democracy is to endure for future generations.
There is no democracy with occupation. The Israelis have failed, and the Palestinians have failed.