Sunday, February 22, 2004

Democracy for Arabs? Thanks, but...

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi,

Democracy in the Arab world? Is it possible? Can it be achieved soon in the greater Middle East as America hopes and plans for? Why now? Why not? Let’s start with the definition of democracy before we decide if we need it or if it is even possible.
Democracy today is largely a creation of each particular environment in which it exists, with only a distant relation to its Athenian origin. US democracy was the answer to the needs and dreams of immigrants and rebels, who escaped a strictly religious, monarchal, and ancient world to a New World with an abundance of freedoms and opportunities. They fought for their independence from the old regime and set up a country with a constitution written by the ten great fathers of the time. Their work was based on research taken from other experiences, but tailored for the very unique American experience.
British democracy and its unwritten constitution evolved with and against a well-established royalty. It constantly learns from its long history and adjusts with the newer realities. Across the Channel, French democracy is a product of an outright revolution against King and Pope. Its staunch secular zeal is clearly reflected in its version of democracy.
European democracy, in general, is based on Western moral and material principles, which may differ from Asian democracy which emphasizes ruling by consensus over individual rights. Their principles differ due to different religious, social and cultural roots, but what is basic in all forms of democracy is the principle of representative government. On this, hardly any reasonable person would disagree.
Therefore, let’s not worry about which package of democratic reforms we introduce into the greater Middle East, but rather encourage every political environment to build up its own form of representative government. What works for the “one nation, one people” Oman, may or may not do in multiethnic, multireligious Sudan. A system that suits the Republic of Pakistan (an independent entity separated from the old British rule and Hindu-majority) may prove unworkable in the much less diversified, never-foreign-occupied Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
What I am getting at is: Democracy should not be the goal, representative government should. Packaged, one-size-fits-all solutions won’t work; well-researched, homegrown, culturally and socially aware ones will. So, while the intentions might be good, the methods could lead us into Hell. Ask the Afghanis and Iraqis. By now, they know better.

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