First things first. There is not one democracy in the Arab region. It’s a fact that we have accepted as a given, a fact that makes most foreigners scratch their heads in confusion.
If you listen to the talk on the street, most Arabs don’t even want democracy. They find current governments more powerful, more stable. So I started asking myself what are the benefits of democracy in the region?
- Better representation for minorities: Your rights are recognized by law, you are a human and a citizen of the country.
-Less opacity in government transactions: You know your rights, which forms to use, what is ok, what is not.
-Better business: mainly because of the above. Corporations are stronger, they can take more risks.
-Less wars: In the history of the world, only twice have democracies fought. There’s just too many disincentives
-A more secular government: Here’s where most people get it wrong. They think voting will result in a politically Islamic government taking control, hence democracy=political Islam, like what happened in Gaza. But you see, what happened in Gaza hardly was democracy, it was just Bush inspired voting. Democracy, ladies and gentlemen has pillars, central of which is…
1- The Constitution: The central authority, more powerful than votes, judges, anything. You see if the constitution is secular, then even if Hamas gets to power, it can’t do anything. Ban male barbers? Overruled. Ban scantily clad mannequins? Unconstitutional. The most powerful government can’t do anything in a democracy because it just doesn’t have enough power. It has to share it with…
2-The rule of law: If something is against the law, you can’t do it. If the law is bothering you so much, you have to rally to change it, and in a constitutional way too. The law is a thorn in the back of the powerful, and gives the weak a good card to play when cornered. But law is abstract, and can be inhumane and ridiculous. That’s when you go to…
3-Free media: Depending on how shocking it is, your story can go to the press, blogs, tv, you can have your own facebook group, maybe a documentary. Your story becomes popular, with many people working for you to get your rights back. But these concerned people won’t be the poor, who barely get through with life, or the really rich who are sheltered from your troubles. The real vanguards of democracy are the…
4-Middle Class: When there’s enough of them, they have ultimate power, and they take the country anywhere their heart desires. You find them in every democracy, usually disappointed with the way the country is going. Their purchasing power is what matters, their votes and attention are paramount.
Democracy hasn’t come to the ME because we don’t even know what a nation is, let alone a democratic one. As Azmi Bshara said, we need an oppressive government just to remind us that we are one nation and distract us from our tribal mindset. Never mind the religion nations: whenever a group in this region has tried to built a religion nation, whether Christian, Jewish or Islamic, it has always resulted in a truckload of stupid.
But I’m proud of efforts made to build democracy foundations everywhere in the Arab world. Whether it is a rise in middle class, a regional free media, building a national identity. Our formal constitutions and laws were put by occupiers, we don’t relate to them. Tear them down, write a 21st century constitution, share power (you may like your current president/king, but remember, you wouldn’t want so much power to fall in the wrong hands), separate religion from power, so that one interpretation isn’t forced on everybody, and religion is free to thrive and grow.
I know we took our time, but the Arab renaissance is coming soon. It has to be, and it has to be from within.