Is the Muslim World not conducive to Democracy?

Is the Muslim World not conducive to Democracy?

If our wise men dreamt of the future, that too was in the mirror of the past. Nothing new could be settled with this idea.

The first wave of the “Arab Spring” rose from Tunisia in late 2010. Rashid Ghannouchi, the most mature Muslim political figure of the 21st century, also belongs to this country. Tunisia is once again in political turmoil these days. The elected parliament is suspended and the shadows of dictatorship are getting darker. Despite Ghannouchi’s selfless sacrifice, the tree of democracy is not bearing fruit.
Not only in Tunisia, the Arab Spring turned into autumn everywhere. What happened in Syria? Bashar al-Assad became president once again a few months ago with ninety-five percent of the vote. The gallows are constantly inhabited and the hanging poles are permanently fed in Egypt. President-elect Morsi’s funeral was lifted from prison and so was his son’s. A similar scene is visible in Bangladesh as well. Iran is also going to polls, but how? Only those chosen by the guardians of shura are required to participate. The story of Turkish democracy can be heard from Fatehullah Golen.
Malaysia is a seemingly democratic country in Southeast Asia, but what happened to Anwar Ibrahim at the hands of Mahathir Mohamad? The past and present of Pakistan’s democracy is known to us. In Afghanistan, the world saw the democracy of Hamid Karzai and of Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban do not believe in democracy and in countries which need no mention, there are still kingdoms.
In the twentieth century, when human history took a turn and entered the era of nation-states, its political structure also changed. Monarchy was replaced by democracy. The second experiment along with democracy in the non-Muslim world was that of the communist state. A larger part of Eastern Europe remained under this control, until the time when the Berlin Wall fell down. Now there is only democracy. Communist countries still have dictatorships. Somewhere it is personal autocracy and somewhere a one-party system of dictatorship.
Though democracy has become part of the political faith in the non-communist world, it has not flourished anywhere in the Muslim world. Even those who came with the power of vote ultimately wanted all the power to come to them. Some sociologists have come to the conclusion that the psychological set- up of Muslim society is not conducive to democracy. Is this correct or is it because of Muslim history which mostly consisted of monarchy? If not so, then is it because of our understanding of Islam which does not accept any non-divine center of power?
By democracy I mean the political system in which the collective wisdom of the people has the right to power. The majority of the people can assign the right to an individual or a group to look after the interests of the people. If it fails to do so, then the people have the right to replace this group with another. This group should decide what the foreign policy of the country is, what will the economy be like, and what is the national interest.
In a democracy, the majority has the right to power, but the majority has a responsibility to respect the opinion of the minority. For this, it is necessary to ensure freedom of speech in the society. The minority should have the right to present their position to the people as they wish. It is possible that today’s minority opinion will become tomorrow’s majority opinion. This is essential for the natural evolution of society. If a society does not guarantee freedom of speech, it becomes a pool instead of a flowing river where the process of intellectual decay takes place and the continuation of which destroys the living germ of society.
When it is said that there is no democracy in Muslim societies, it means that the power to decide is the power of a particular class rather than of the people. It could be religious elites. It could be kings. It could be an authority. It could be a family. It could be a single party. This is the case today in all Muslim countries. People do not have the right to decide their destiny themselves. The one who has power for some reason is not willing to give it up.
The Muslim masses are not ready to protest against undemocratic governments. Does that mean that the fate is accepted? The state is able to stop the people from protesting by providing some degree of economic comfort. There is a blanket of fear that is put on society: fear of life, fear of honour, fear of wealth. Somewhere the reason for this is the frustration of the people with politics.
Where there is democracy in the world today, was there no fear of life and property? Was there no exploitation of religious sentiment? Of course it was. We know of the power of the church in Europe. The fear of the king was no less. Yet, what happened after all, was that neither the king’s fear remained, nor the fear of the church. A democratic society was born and the people became the source of power. There was such a change that today no political system other than democracy can be imagined there.
This is because of the intellectual struggle of about three-hundred years. The struggle that changed the people’s perspective. Which uprooted their age-old political, social and religious ideas and sowed a new crop of ideas. This resulted in strong political and social institutions. These institutions agreed on a basic system of values, with democracy at the top. Today, no one can impose on them without the will of the people.
The history of Muslim societies is without this intellectual struggle. Even if we had made any effort, it was for a revival of ancient times called renaissance. If our wise men dreamt of the future, that too was in the mirror of the past. Nothing new could be settled with this idea. We understood the meaning of our commitment to religion as brining ancient institutions to life. It was a true understanding of religion, not of society. The result is before us that even those who come to power by vote want to become Amir al-Momineen. Whether Muslim political leaders are dressed in tribal attire, in jaba and dastar or wearing modern suits, their concept of governance will be only one: concentration of power.
For democracy, Muslim societies have to go through a phase of intellectual struggle first. They have to create a new intellectual narrative. They are to create political institutions that can defend democracy. Similarly, democracy cannot be defended without political parties based on democratic principles. If there is no strong civil society, it is not possible to instil democratic values, which can speak effectively for people’s rights to dissent.
Unless this stage is set, democracy cannot come to Muslim countries. In this intellectual journey, our results may not necessarily be the same as those of the West. They may be different, but the way is: the intellectual and political reorganisation of society. Otherwise, only the formulas of partnership power will be discussed, as is happening in some countries nowadays; apparently voting will take place, but it will be decided in advance which party will be given how many seats. It will be known that Bashar al-Assad will get 95 per cent and Hosni Mubarak 90 per cent. These results are so predictable that no Gallup survey is required.

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