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No to Democracy! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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No to democracy! These are not my words, but rather those of American researcher and notable political strategic writer Fareed Zakaria; Newsweek international’s editor and columnist for the Foreign Affairs journal.

This “no” of his is directed at the third world (our world, the people of everlasting sadness!), as he wrote in his book “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad,” which is based on a 1997 article published in Foreign Affairs journal. He argues that constitutional liberalism and then capitalism are the necessary preliminaries for the existence of “democratic liberalism” in the Arab and Muslim world.

Fareed Zakaria is of Indian Muslim descent, an issue which may or not decrease the charge of white Anglo-Saxon racism. That does not matter, however what is important is reading the arguments presented by him and the evidence that he cites. These are based on a direct notion that modern history shows that democracy, when practiced in many third world countries, under western pressure, of course, had negative results that were manifested in the accession to power by fundamentalist and Nazi currents. As for the economic situation, public freedoms and security, these were better under the former regimes which were revolted against or which were undermined on the pretext of freedom and democracy.

But before that, let me tell you why I am citing this argument.

The truth is that the slogan of democracy is a beautiful one, a political paradise that is sought by every clear-minded human being. It is the climax of political and social evolution and its ultimate goal. But in many cases, this slogan, which was always raised against theocratic, despotic, Nazi, Communist and military governments or monarchies, led to even worse results. We see the voter’s options turn towards the one who leads him backwards even more so than in the past, as if he is taking revenge on himself!

One recent and close example is Egypt. Egypt has been led by a paramilitary political regime since the July [1952] Revolution, a regime that is not welcomed by the “progressive” and communist forces, as well as by the main opposition force—the Islamists, primarily the Muslim Brotherhood.

There are many arguments cited by those rejecting the Egyptian regime, especially in Mubarak’s era and in light of the outbreak of the American democratic onslaught. However, they fall under “temporary” slogan-oriented umbrellas that encompass the Brotherhood’s hawk Mahdi Akif and secular Christian George Ishaq, the coordinator of the “secular progressive” Kefaya Movement under the title of political opposition to the regime and continually harassing it under the pretext of democracy, the regime abandoning the Palestinians, “allowing” the US invasion of Iraq, etc. However, away from these “temporary” unifying slogans, we do not know for sure the extent to which it is possible for this solidarity between the enemies of the regime to survive. There was a real test to examine the intellectual and ideological convictions of each party, of which we have seen a part during Minister Faruq Husni’s “ordeal” when he came under fierce attack by the Brotherhood’s legislators. The Brotherhood’s machine stirred up popular sentiment against the minister, who was accused of insulting the concept of hijab, which prompted the legislators of the ruling National Democratic Party to take part in the outbidding game of words with the Brotherhood’s legislators which went a long, long way. In this ordeal, we remember how the symbols of the Kefaya Movement and Kefaya newspapers – by that I mean several opposition newspapers – were confused. On the one hand, it considers itself a civil society movement that defends political freedoms and, from a secular nationalistic perspective, it attacks the faults of the regime. So how does it get involved in a battle with which it has nothing to do?!

What did Kefaya activists do next?!

They engaged in an abortive maneuver to convert the battle against Faruq Husni to one against the ministry of culture’s “exacerbating” corruption, favoritism and plundering of public money to present the movement as if it is one in the opposition trench against the minister, consequently against the government, without spoiling its secular purity, especially as it presents itself to the west as the voice of freedom and democracy. So how would it be part of the Brotherhood’s reactionary view against woman, especially as the issue of suppressing woman in the Arab world is one of the key concerns that attracts efforts of international humanitarian and human rights organizations within the context of the criticism of the Arab regimes?!

Minister Husni’s ordeal was over when he stated that he was not aware of the importance of creating a religious department within his ministry and that he would establish such a department—a lesson learned from the standoff—only to encounter statements made later by the movement’s Supreme Guide, Mahdi Akef, to the effect that what happened was enough, and that the uproar was exaggerated. Kefaya emerges as lame!

What are we trying to say?

We want to say that although the Kefaya Movement is a key example in the Arab world of the rise of democratic forces, it is a lifeless, insignificant entity, despite all the media inflation, in comparison to the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood movement, a movement that when given the chance under US pressure, made a resounding entrance into parliament. Here it is making preparations to present its political program in spite of the law banning the Muslim Brotherhood party for over half a century and in spite of the last constitutional amendment that prohibits the creation of political parties based on religion. Undoubtedly, the regime responded using the usual security method of detaining some activists (did you hear any condemnation from Condi Rice this time?) But the Brotherhood is determined to go ahead, and President Mubarak says the accession to power by fundamentalist parties would mean the destruction of the country, a plunge in investments, and misery. Perhaps the statements we are making here mean that we are against democracy and for despotic regimes!

Of course, statements like these are not popular at all. From my point of view, half of these statements are true. In other words, it is not true that the cure for our political and Arab ailment is the application of transparent democracy and empowering the people easily and sincerely to choose who they want.

This is simplification and above all leads to grave consequences. The latest evidence of this is demonstrated by Iraq—there was a fair election as witnessed by many, yet it gave rise to people who are incapable of “ruling Iraq” and serving the Iraqis because they came to power as a result of slogans that tickled the sentiment of the “majority” and nothing more! I believe that Arab regimes did not do what Fareed Zakaria discussed regarding preparing society for a democratic practice by laying explicit constitutional rules and creating a real legal culture that includes the whole of society. Such rules and culture would prevent the monopolizing of power by one party if it assumed authority through a democratic election. After this legal liberalism, we move to the other stages.

Furthermore, the culture of pluralism has to be fostered and society must be accustomed to accept difference. It has to be accustomed to do so methodologically and persistently, a mission that can only be undertaken by sincere determined politicians.

These “preparatory” steps were not taken by the Arab regimes; thus the situation has frozen and is slack, and the ability to resist the glow of the opposing slogans has weakened. We know that it is your action on the ground that will defend you more than the promises that are made!

This serious, steady endeavor towards the paradise of democracy is the way out of fates that are unknown to everybody except God. We want these preparatory steps for democracy to become a natural outcome rather than a leap into the unknown. What is important is not to run behind those who raise zealous slogans to which there are no benefits, whether religious, nationalist or leftist. Also, regimes must renounce rigidity and the sin of corruption, corruption that Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad once described as “too much for camels to bear!” But does this mean “suspending” democracy and not acting according to it until people have been “bred” into the culture of democracy and regimes have reformed themselves?! Are these not idealistic, impractical statements?!

Really, I don’t know! But it seems to me that a special kind of political democracy can be practiced at this stage of our history, democracy like that which is practiced in Turkey or in Jordan, democracy that allows Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be Turkey’s Prime Minister or Islamist Brotherhood member Abdul Latif Arabiyat to be Speaker of Parliament in Jordan. In both cases, however, the accession of Islamists to leading posts in the government has not resulted in shaking up the structure of the state, change, complete transformation of its identity or a knock to social culture. The reason is the presence of buffers, not only legal and constitutional ones – which are merely texts that can be altered – but the presence of forces that protect the general situation—the military in Turkey and the royal palace in Jordan.

This method may be adopted in order to avoid rigidity in the democratic practice and allow a calculated chance.

Finally, it is most important to advance towards democracy rather than place it on a worn-out vehicle that may collapse whilst everyone is on board.