Islam and democracy in the Arab world


Galip Dalay wrote what I thought was a very good explanation of Islam and democracy  and the conflict some people in today’s Arab/Muslim world think exists, entitled  Yet Another Instance of Islamic Exceptionalism, which I wanted to post excerpts of below

 

Tanks rolled down the street, state owned TV channels were taken over, dissenting media outlets tankswere raided and silenced, president’s office was surrounded, the first ever democratically elected president was put under house arrest, the constitution was suspended, and the head of army stood in front of cameras to try to justify these disgraceful deeds. As a citizen of Turkey, a country that has endured four military coups, these scenes were all too familiar; what has been taking place in Egypt was clear and obvious: a coup d’état.

Yet, the leaders of “democratic” countries did not describe the events in Egypt as a coup. The United States, which ostensibly squandered a great deal of finances and shed blood all in the name of “democracy” in greater Middle East and North Africa, failed to use “c” word…

Ashton

EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton

Likewise, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton refrained from using the “c” word in her statement on the overthrow of Morsi. In addition, her statement did not indicate any possible repercussions against the military’s grab of power from elected civilians….

This refusal to call a coup a coup has not been limited to the official circles. A significant part of the international media, pundits, and analysts also followed suit by not labeling the events as coup or condemning them. But why were the pundits so reluctant in defining the new millenium’s first televised coup by its name? Have we not all been applauding the irresistible shift towards democratization world-wide? Was not the Arab Spring a welcome development similar to the ones that had taken place in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989 – 1990?

The excessive emphasis on the identity of the president and the characteristics of the party, in the international media and analysts’ discourse, seems to indicate the real reason for condoning the coup. morsiIIFinding an article that did not attempt to justify the military takeover of the Morsi government by references to his and his party’s Islamist identity and a detailed account of all the mistakes they made, supposedly due to their Islamist politics, has become a mission impossible. For some, this whole affair represented the confirmation of their long-held belief regarding the incompatibility of Islam and democracy. They eagerly spelled out the failure of Political Islam in playing by the rules of an open and democratic political system.

…the perennial debate on incompatibility between Islam and democracy has been a flawed one. This debate adopts an essentialist approach to both democracy and religion. It accounts for the existence of a functioning democracy more through the specific cultural, civilizational and religious codes than through the existence of strong and independent institutions, rules of law, and political experience…democracy was essentially and exclusively European due to its unique mix of cultural, civilizational and religious factors, thus it could not take root anywhere but the European-western world. This stance assumed that other regions, cultures or religions were impervious to democratization due to their exceptional circumstances and religious and cultural values, which were deemed to be incommensurate with democratic values.

vote….the revolutions in the Arab World rendered this latest form of exceptionalism obsolete as well. Thus, these experiences illustrated that Asians, Muslims and Arabs were no different in their demands for representative democracy and dignity than their European and American peers….

…when pundits question the compatibility of Islam and democracy, what they actually mean is whether Islam is compatible with liberalism. Given that Islamist movements are usually the best organized groups at the societal level in the countries they operate and that they share the value systems of the public at large, they have no qualms about electoral democracy–a stance they eagerly proved by seizing every opportunity for free and fair elections. In this respect, it becomes clear that what is meant by this question of compatibility is whether Islamists are ready to accommodate liberal demands and different (secular) life styles….

…it is the secularist elites and establishments that demonstrate incompatibility with democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. This region has not witnessed Islamists’ halting or crushing democratic processes. In fact, one may argue that the only exception might be the Iranian election of 2009 on a minor scale. Yet, the region witnessed many instances of secularist establishment’s and elites’ crushing of democratic processes: four coups by secular military – establishment in Turkey, Algerian army’s crushing of Islamic Salvation Front in 1992 election to prevent them from coming to power through democratic elections, Egyptian army’s present day crushing of a fledgling democratic experiment. conflictLikewise, in Syria, it is again the secularist Baathist regime that stifles peoples’ demands for freedom, democracy, and economic well-being. This raises the question as to why Middle Eastern and North African secularists demonstrate this inability to reconcile with democratic processes?

Renowned scholar Jose Casanova’s following observations are imperative in understanding this dilemma. “One wonders whether democracy does not become an impossible “game” when potential majorities are not allowed to win elections, and when secular civilian politicians ask the military to come to the rescue of democracy by banning these potential majorities, which threaten their secular identity and their power.” This observation does not only aptly capture the crux of challenges to the democratization in the region, it also elucidates why Middle Eastern and North African secularists prove unable to comply with democratic rules and procedures. Thus, the search for Islamist-proof democracy makes democracy itself a mission impossible to accomplish.

The Islamist identity of Morsi and his party seems to be the major reason for the reticence of the international community and media in defining this coup a coup! The future of democracy and upholding of rights and liberties of the citizens in the Middle East and North Africa are significantly contingent upon whether Islamists would be allowed to run in fair elections and rule, if they win. If we do not want Essam el Haddad’s words “…the message will resonate throughout the Muslim world loud and clear: democracy is not for Muslims” to form the mindset of new generation of Islamists in the region, then it is imperative to take a stance against this coup, which has the potential to stifle the emerging democratic experiments of the Arab Spring.

 

 

 

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