Saturday, June 11, 2011

Is the Arab world capable of democracy?

This has been the $64,000 (plus applicable sales taxes) Question since at least the start of the war in Iraq in 2003.  Perhaps the real question should be how the Arab world defines "democracy," as Salim Mansur explains:

In the long run, everything can likely work out and Arabs hopefully may learn to distinguish between mobocracy, as a tyranny of the majority, and democracy, as a rule of law, in which minorities are protected as equal members of society.
But in the long run, as Lord John Maynard Keynes — the revered economic guru of the liberal-left — pointed out the obvious: “In the long run we are all dead.” What matters is whether in the short or medium term Arab politics can break out of its closed circle of traditional consensus that frowns upon innovation as heresy.
The problem is culture. Arab culture, despite tremendous changes that have occurred elsewhere in the world, remains resilient in adhering to traditional values of patriarchy and the tribal order of father (leader) knows what is best for his tribe or nation.

The Arab League consists of 21 states and the Palestinian Authority. There is not one single democracy in this collection of Arab states, and the predominant reason for the absence of democracy among Arabs is culture.
Democracy is not merely an election, and a representative party with majority support holding power.
For democracy to work, the prerequisite is a culture in which the people recognizes the “other” — irrespective of how the “other” is defined in terms of ethnicity or religion or gender — as equal, and their interests and aspirations as legitimate.
This recognition of the “other” is missing in Arab culture. The “other” is merely tolerated in a subordinate status and since the “other” in the modern context is unwilling to be consigned indefinitely into an inferior position, the result is the repeated cycle of rebellion and repression in Arab history.
The shortest synopsis I have seen of the United States' Constitution consists of four words: "majority rule, minority rights."  It would seem that when it comes to democracy much of the Arab world still needs to learn the "minority rights" part.

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