Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Is Islamic Democracy the Solution? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Western political circles have received the news of the al-Nahda party winning the Tunisian elections with deep reservation and concern. These same circles had previously applauded the Arab Spring and even provided diplomatic, media and military assistance to the revolutionaries who toppled the ruling regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The reason for this was their fear that such revolutions would culminate in the rise of Islamic rule in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and in other Arab capital cities where the masses have shown great mobility through elections and democracy.

Neither the negative stances of Western governments and nations that fear “political Islam”, nor the acts of intimidation practiced by the overthrown, authoritarian Arab regimes, or others in the process of being toppled, in order to prompt the West to fear the “danger” of the Islamists, both in the past and at present, is anything new. Yet, what is new is the on-going controversy today regarding the concept of “political Islam” and the ruling system, whether it is derived from Islam or leans upon it, the extent to which Islamic Shariaa can be applied and its limitations, and whether it suits the contemporary concept of human rights and the principle of equality between man and woman, and international laws of punishment.

The political, media and military “attack” on al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Jihadists as a result of the 11 September attacks placed all Islamists in one basket and prompted the West to regard them all as enemies, sparking a confrontation and a semi “Crusade” between the Western and the Muslim world. Hence, Westerns began to gradually distinguish between “Islamic extremists” (such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Jihadists), the conservative Islamists and moderate Salafis (such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Tunisian al-Nahda party).

With the success of the Justice and Development Party in Turkey, slogans such as “Democratic Islam” and “Moderate Islam” emerged. Instead of clinging to the principle of an inevitable clash with the Muslim world, intent upon establishing a theocratic rule antagonizing the West, its interests and values, the political and Islamic religious trend was now something to be crystallized and acknowledged, rather than declared war against. This is how the West perceived the situation, but for Arab political parties and powers carrying religious slogans, they also developed their strategies by announcing their openness to other rival civil political parties. They adopted democracy, political pluralism and respect for human and women’s rights.

Hence, it could be said that the West’s concern about the Arab Spring, which has risen up against injustice and dictatorship, transforming into a religious summer that will impose a type of rule similar to the Taliban or Iranian model upon the Arab generations is now retreating, despite the indicators which have begun to appear in the ballot boxes. Yet, the Arab Spring is still in its early days, and no one can predict the nature and type of the regimes that will come tomorrow or the day after in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and likewise in Syria, Yemen, Sudan or in any other Arab and Islamic state. No one can also depict or determine the major Western and Eastern states’ strategies towards the Arab and Islamic world in the coming years. Such policies will be dependent upon joint or competitive economic interests dominated by international political and national considerations, which could sometimes be contradictory.

What is more important is that the Arab states succeed in establishing better – not ideal –ruling regimes, whether their mechanisms, foundations or titles are religious, civil, Islamic or democratic, and whether they are presidential or parliamentary, monarchies of republics. What matters is not the title or the slogan, but rather the content, application and practice. What matters is that citizens under these regimes enjoy freedom, equality, justice, dignity and the right to choose their rulers. As testified by everyone, this will not be easy or imminent. Nations that have achieved such a prestigious political and civilized accomplishment, following years of uprisings and revolutions, had to endure numerous hardships and wars before they eventually reached the political and social stability they enjoy today.

Perhaps, the difference between the experiences of nations and countries whose revolutions predated us in rising against tyrannical rule and the current Arab Spring is that some external elements [in past eras], from the media to the military, had failed to play the role we see today. Now the revolutionaries are subject to the supervision and the judgment of the international community. Such supervision serves as both a restraint and a guarantee at the same time.

It goes without saying that true democracy, in its essence, is the denominator of the integrity of relations between the East and the West, regardless of the title or slogan under which it is practiced.