By Mourad Anouar
By Mourad Anouar
Morocco World News
Oklahoma City, April 22, 2012
Amidst all these political upheavals that have swept through most Middle East countries, one can’t help but wonder at the brutality used by the region dictators to confront these peaceful uprising. While protestors are fighting for freedom, human rights and dignity for the whole society, those in powers as well their loyalists are willing to kill, suppress and silence as many people as they could to maintain control.
And much to the West’s surprise, a replicated political pattern across some Arabic countries, such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, has brought parties of Islamist agendas to power in the wake of the Arab Spring. Most of these parties’ leaders have confirmed on different occasions that they are seriously committed to bringing democracy to their respective countries out of the long authoritarian rules they were under.
As a result, across Middle East democracy becomes not only a household word, but an immediate demand from millions of long-suppressed people. This thought is shared with John L. Esposito (1999) when he said once “whether the word democracy is used or not, almost all Muslims today react to it as one of the universal conditions of the modem world. To this extent, it has become part of Muslim political thought and discourse”. To achieve democracy, however, it we have to be more perseverance, patience and strong conviction in our ability to subdue all hurdles put in front of us by democracy enemies. With that said, questions should be raised such as: Why does democracy Middle East have a hard time taking root? Why are we impervious to democratic transformations, while other nations have made significant progress into democracy?
With deep, complex histories and thousands of years of embedded traditions, cultures and a dominant religion, democracy seems to be struggling in Middle East. Many books and research papers were written in attempt to unravel the knot, but one interesting and rigorous explanation of the “Arab democratic deficit” came from a Harvard Economics professor named Eric Chaney, who published recently a paper explaining, in unprecedented way, our struggle toward a democratic society. The professor attempted to understand why democracy would function in countries with majority-Muslim population nations as Turkey, Indonesia, Albania, Bangladesh and Malaysia, while oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, on the other hand, lack democracy.
Ruling Islam and Arab culture out, thus, as hindrances to build democratic societies in Middle East, Chaney used ancient history and modern economics to conclude that the undemocratic countries in Middle East are those which are conquered by Arab armies after the death in A.D. 632 of the Prophet Muhammad. This developed into an Arab imperial system with economic pluralism and as a result, it produced a centralized political authority, weak civil society and a dependent merchant class. Interestingly, Chaney found out that not only the government’s share of GDP is 7% higher on average in countries that were conquered by Arab armies than in those that were not, but in the conquered countries there are fewer trade unions and less access to credit, features of a vibrant civil society.
Even if Chaney’s explanation of our “democracy deficit” seems to be worthwhile and conciliatory in nature, it fails to address Islamists’ positions on some crucial issues, which are part of our daily lives in Middle East. And now as many Westerners, Christian minorities in Middle East, and some liberal Muslims and Arabs are panicking about the victories of Islamists in elections, fears and concerns over Islamist rising to power have to be looked at with some seriousness. One should be reminded that democracy is more than what ballots can bring up. If so, Germans had to be happy, as some of us today, when democracy brought Hitler to power. If they could have only predicted the unrepairable damages that they had to endure, they would have stopped him from even running for presidency. Since I am not trying to imply any resemblance between the Nazis and the Islamists, I would like to point that one can’t feel comfortable about some of their statements, nor their expressed intentions.
And If Islamists believe in democracy, they should tell us their frank positions on Jihad, women’s rights, religious freedom, terrorism and more. Many Muslim intellectuals and other western thinkers, however, have done tremendous efforts to remove suspicion about the nature and goals of the Islamic movements, and sought to prove that Islam enshrines democratic values. One best known advocate of the idea that Islam both is compatible and encourages democracy is again Esposito (2002) who argues that “Islamic movements have internalized the democratic discourse through the concepts of shura (consultation), Ijma’ (consensus), and Ijtihad (independent interpretive judgment) and concludes that democracy already exists in the Muslim world, “whether the word democracy is used or not.”
If that is the case, according to Esposito, one should cite Mawdudi (1999), the godfather of Islamism, who argues that” any Islamic polity has to accept the supremacy of Islamic law over all aspects of political and religious life.” Or what would the Islamists do if they are put in position where they have to choose, for example, between implementing the prescribed punishment for an apostate, or adhere to their agreed commitment to respecting religious freedom? Are they going to renounce Said Qutb (1964), another Islamist theorist, who said “Similarly, it (Shari”ah) includes political, social, and economic affairs and their principles, with the intent that they reflect complete submission to God alone?”
Into this mix comes Islamist propaganda, which portrays their interpreted Islam as compatible with all democratic values. In fact, Islamists prove to be reluctant to express their true position on the concept of democracy, and sometimes are even deceitful by having two discourses, one for people at home and the other for the West. One important example that best illustrates this issue is their stance on global Jihad. While they tend to sound very confrontational and very critical of the “evil West’ if their discourse is addressed at home, it is the opposite when they speak to Western officials, stressing willingness to cooperate, and to have strong ties with the West based on peace, mutual interest and respect. But what would our Islamist leaders do, those who are not ashamed of showing support to Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri, with one of his statement sneering those who are “luring thousands of young Muslim men into lines for elections … instead of into the lines of jihad.”
This double-discourse character on Islamists’ part will be soon tested when those who vote for them find out that their leaders have another understanding of democracy, no different from that of the unseated authoritarian rulers. And as it is too early to determine whether they will live up to their promises of seeking democracy, one would wonder how they are going to accommodate Islam to their understanding of democracy. Interviewed by Time magazine, Shimon Perez (2012), ex-prime minister, said” I am optimistic. Islam has different interpretations. There is soft Islam and strong Islam and extreme Islam. So we have to see what their interpretations of it is”
Still, as uncertain as our region’s future is now, one would just wish to hear voices such as of the Indonesian theologian Harun Nasutian and the Iranian thinker Abdul-Karim Sorouch, who both view the Koran as a necessary source of basic moral themes, but not as the final blueprint for human society imagined by Islamists. This contemporary rationalist school, or the new Mu’tazila, is what we need to hear nowadays before the Islamists steal our dream of a better and democratic Middle East. And as the West seems to be courting with the Islamists now, voices of Sorouch, Nasutian and the like are neglected both home and overseas. One can’t help but express concerns over the inevitable confrontation between the Islamists and any who dares oppose them, including those who voted for them. Also, the clash between civilizations as Samuel Huntington environed is something we can’t overlook as the West seem to continue disregard rational voices of Muslims thinkers. Carl. W. Ernest (2004) said “as long as we are not able even to hear the voices of these thinkers, we will not be able to have a genuine dialogue of civilizations.’
Oklahoma-based and of Moroccan origin, Anouar Mourad is a writer and a poet. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism with a minor in German from the University of Central Oklahoma. He has published a number of articles, poems and short stories. He proudly served as the president of UCO’s Moroccan Student Association and helped organize many cultural and interfaith dialogues at the same university. His main areas of interests are languages, religions, interfaith dialogue, world politics, human rights and more. Currently, he is working on writing his first novel that he hopes to get it published soon.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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1-John L. Esposito and James P. Piscatori, . “Democratization and Islam.” Middle East Institute. 427-440. Print. <http://www.yorku.ca/khoosh/POLS
2-Eric Chaney, . “Democratic Change in the Arab World, Past and Present.” the brookings institute. (Mar 22, 2012): 25. Web. 21 Apr. 2012.
3-John L. Esposito, What Everybody Needs to Know about Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 159-61.
4-Muhammad Yusuf, Maududi: A Formative Phase (Karachi: the Universal Message, 1979), p. 35.
5-Sayyid Qutb, First. Milestones. 107. Damascus: Dar Al-Ilm, 1964. 160. Print.
6-Shimon Peres, . “10 questions.” Time magazine. 02 04 2012: 64. Print.
7-Carl. W. Ernest , First. following muhammad. 272 pages. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004. Print.pp.141