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POINT OF LAW: A Government of Laws, Not Men

  • By G.Monty Manibog
(Editor's note: Former Monterey Park Mayor G. Monty Manibog is a regular columnist offering legal tips and perspectives on high profile legal cases and events.)
Spreading like wildfire across the Arab world, hundreds of thousands of youthful protesters are seeking change in their governments, which are largely authoritarian/autocratic. Under a "government of laws" everyone from every station of life must bow to the "majesty of the law" and no one is above it. Under a "government of men", those in power make and change the laws according to their whims with no input from the people.
In ancient Greece, the cradle of democracy, decisions of state were made by a show of hands (pure democracy) in the public squares. Of course, this eventually proved to be a lengthy and burdensome way to conduct the affairs of a nation and so "representative democracy," (by which people elect representatives to vote for them) was formed and many such democratic governments today (including the U.S.) are, therefore, republics.
While in a democracy the fundamental human rights and the full worth of the individual citizen are recognized and protected (as in the U.S., much of Europe, the Far East and other western societies), the Arab world, much of which is governed by authoritarian regimes - from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen and Jordan - is now clamoring for democratic changes because of lack of political freedom and economic opportunity.
In 1986, the force of over 1 million Filipinos seeking democratic rule brought about the resignation of President Ferdinand Marcos (turned dictator via martial law) who accepted then-President Reagan's invitation to live in exile in Hawaii to avoid the slaughter of his own people.
And in 1991, Moscow mayor Boris Yeltsin stood atop a Russian tank sent to crush the protestors clamoring for democracy and rallied the crowd to bring down communism and this resulted in democratic elections propelling Yeltsin to the presidency.
But while "people power" succeeded in bringing about the demise of authoritarian rule in the Philippines and Russia (and the disintegration of the Soviet empire), the millions of democracy seekers in Tiananmen Square, China in 1989 were not as fortunate as protestors were gunned down by the hundreds (thousands by other estimates) and the communist regime retained power in a nation that has one fourth of the world's population.
While protests and demonstrations for democracy are now sweeping throughout the Arab world, and some may succeed in bringing about peaceful transitions through people power, the caveat is that extremist/radical Muslim groups may replace the current governments.
Under President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, a formal peace treaty with Israel remains in force, the Sinai border has been sealed to prevent the smuggling of rockets and arms into Gaza and peace talks with Israel for a Palestinian state have been in progress with Egypt's support.
Will replacing Mubarak terminate these gains for peace in the Middle East? Apparently, Mubarak must eventually go and democracy, as demanded by the people, should be established. However, what comes next?
The Muslim Brotherhood? Hamas or other jihadist extremist groups? This caveat can best be gleaned from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent remarks that "a transition in Egypt could backslide in another authoritarian regime," and that "revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy only to see the political process hijacked by new autocrats who use violence, deception and rigged elections to stay in power or to advance an agenda of extremism."
A word of serious advice and caution to President Obama: Tread cautiously and wisely in seeking to influence events in the Middle East.
We don't want other dictators or autocrats, especially the radical extremists, hijacking the democratic movements. We certainly don't need another Iran.

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