Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Is democracy a right for Islamists too? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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On her first visit to the Arab World as US Secretary of State, Condolezza Rice has confused many with her pronouncements. During a lecture at the American University of Cairo , she gave out clear statements and ensured an implied message is delivered, regarding her country’s foreign policies in the next three years. Alarmingly, she spoke assertively of handing power to Islamist groups.

Did Rice mean what she said and realize all the meanings in her presentation?

Handing over power to Islamists isn’t really the problem. Rather, the issue is their relinquishing government, democratically. I believe it will be impossible for Islamists to do so, just as other groups, of different ideologies, have shown in the past.

Currently in the opposition, they complain from persecution, call for a change of leadership and demand political freedom. They sound like the most democratic parties in the world when their literature shows a completely different aspect. Indeed, how can a democratic country persecute their enemies with fake charges of atheism and incitement for thirty years?

Take a look at the Islamic Republic of Iran, where the opposition, before the fall of the Shah, suffered from alienation and a lack of democracy. Yet, when it came to power, after the revolution, it was the first to foster an undemocratic climate and persecute its opponents, to ensure that it exclusively enjoys the merits of power, just as democratic Rome once did!

If the US Secretary truly means what she said on her visit, she ought to elaborate on the type of democracy she is referring to and how to ensure continuity so the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt doesn’t resemble Iran ’s Supreme Leader. Who will ensure basic laws are immune to changes in parliament? Who will guarantee the right of expression for all and the respect of minorities?

The problem, in Egypt and other countries in the region, isn’t the type of government but the different understandings of the concept itself. Democracy isn’t just the rule of the simple majority, or 51%, but rather, the enactment of equal rights for all the population. Democracy isn’t only candidates, elections, and voting. Instead, the main component of a democratic system of government ought to be the preservation of constitutional rights that representatives can’t overrule or modify, such as freedom of speech.

Perhaps Rice is unaware that the Arab countries which consider themselves the most democratic are the ones were gross violations take place, during elections. This can assume many forms such as censorship, publication ban, event cancellation, and persecution. In these instances, elected representatives have overridden the constitution in the name of the majority. This is the dictatorship of the many. How can democracy exist when the majority rules but not everyone one receives equal protection form the law?

This is the situation we fear the most for Iraq . It has happened elsewhere, in the past, and can happen in Egypt , in the future. The problem isn’t leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, Supreme Guide Mamoun Hodeiby becoming President of Egypt, or Mohammed al Sayid Habib, Minister of Interior, or even Mohammed Morsi, Foreign Minister, in the future.

If they stood in an election and won, it would be their right to enter government. What we fear, however, is the actions of their supporters who might infringe of some of society’s basic rights. The Islamists might deserve to rule; they need to respect the laws that have brought them to power beforehand.