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Ivory Coast, Palestine, democracy, and the rule of law

The political crisis over democratic secession in the mineral rich West African state of the Ivory Coast continues to cause agitation five weeks after the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo, refused to hand over power to his challenger, Alassane Ouattara. Despite unprecedented levels of pressure from the international community, the risk of re-igniting civil war and being ousted by force, Gbagbo, supported by the Ivorian constitutional court, is holding firm to claims of electoral fraud. Following an independent commission, the UN, the African Union and the US recognised Ouattara as the election winner. The continuing standoff is being viewed from a variety of angles; by elements of the international community as a challenge to its authority and credibility and as a test case for appropriate future African response to ensuring electoral democracy is upheld, but also through the lens of colonialism's legacy in the region.

After the second round results were revealed, French president, Nicholas Sarkozy, bluntly gave Gbagbo two days to hand over the reins and a senior US State Department official asserted he had 'limited time' to listen carefully to what they would 'make him understand'. British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, later commented that Gbabgbo "should not underestimate the determination of the international community that the will of the people of that country should be recognised", thus framing any international intervention within the context of democracy and the rule of law. He also stated that the UK would back the use of force and that a British military liaison officer had already been deployed to work on various contingencies with the French.

The long-standing French tradition of meddling in the affairs of its former African colonies; Britain's track record and the long history of US Foreign policy propping up 'friendly' dictatorships with little regard for the oppressed, need no introduction here. And one needs look no further than the continuing human and political catastrophe in Iraq for a glaring reminder as to the results of US led missions to deliver freedom and democracy; and in Iraq's case, 'freedom' from the grip of a once friendly despot gone rogue.

As such, in some quarters, this brash Western threat of military intervention is whipping what is a conflict of legitimacy into an upsurge in pan-African sentiment and indeed support for Gbagbo. For those who would trace the root of the problems facing Africa, including its corrupt leaders, to past and present exploitation by more powerful nations and more immediately, to the neo-colonial economic globalisation as experienced through its dealings with the IMF and the World Bank, that Mr Ouattara was formerly a top official with the IMF inspires little optimism.

Even so, according to reports, both the UN and an independent electoral commission upheld that Mr Ouattara won the vote by an eight point margin and for this we can all breathe a sigh of relief for perhaps justice is being served. Not so much may be said for the Palestinian quagmire created by US interference and its support for the installation of Palestinians Authority Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad – "our man in Palestine" – another former IMF and World Bank official. Unlike Ouattara, Fayyad's appointment along with the balance of his government is considered illegal under Palestinian Basic Law as it was not approved by the Legislative Council. Nevertheless, the international community continues to interact with the PA as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people.

Moreover, according to an article written by David Rose in 2008, following Hamas'  victory in the 2006 elections, the US armed rival Fatah fighters and essentially engineered a coup to remove the democratically elected faction from power. Abbas was subsequently pressured into sacking Hamas Prime Minister, Ismael Haniyyeh, and replacing him with Fayyad which led to armed action. The US backed initiative, with echoes from the Bay of Pigs, backfired spectacularly and Hamas, who allegedly had no intention of seizing power, were provoked into seizing control of the Gaza Strip. David Wurmesr, then Vice President Dick Cheney's chief Middle East adviser who resigned a month after the Hamas takeover stated "it looks to me that what happened wasn't so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen." Wurmser also accused the Bush administration of attempting to provide a corrupt dictatorship with victory.

It is stunning hypocrisy that the US et al should take such a firm stand for the rights of the people in the Ivory Coast with such pretentions of being the vanguards of global democracy and the rule of law while continuing to support the subversion of the Palestinian democratic will as they struggle for their right to self-determination against the last bastion of old school colonialism.

Is a Palestinian less entitled to democracy than an Ivorian? Or is it an association with the IMF that qualifies potential leaders of less economically developed countries for leadership? Surely, the credibility and authority of the international community can only be derived from the universal and equal application of the rule of law, be that for the European, the African or the Arab. As such, it is a duty for it to see that justice is served for both the people of Ivory Coast and Palestine.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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