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                                                           The Mirage of Arab Democracy
 
 
 
 
 
Arab democracy is fantasy. Democratic ideology cannot defeat Islamic theology.
 
 
Introduction 
 
Notwithstanding that Arab rule is tribal, corrupt, non-meritorious, mired in favoritism and nepotism it is bewildering that most Arab rulers typically remain in office until death, be it from natural causes or resulting from a military coup. No Arab king or president, however, spares an opportunity to display the loyalty of his subjects. The monarchs, on one hand, draw mile-long queues of happy-looking men on every national and religious occasion to demonstrate their people’s allegiance. The presidents, on the other hand, conduct farcical stage-managed uncontested referendums in which they manage to always contrive near 100% approvals. The only exception was the free and democratic presidential election in Egypt of Mohammad Morsi on June 30, 2012, in which he achieved 51.7% majority. However, on July 3, 2013, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi staged a coup d'etat against Mr. Morsi. On June 3, 2014, al-Sisi was elected president of Egypt, with 97% of the votes cast.
 
Representative democracy is not a natural choice for most Arabs. Obedience to hierarchical Islamic authority is. Obedience is at the heart of ulama’s teaching. In the Arab home, school, mosque, work place, and the nation at large a culture of blind obedience to autocracy is a way of life. Poverty, illiteracy, and ill health, together with a fatalistic belief in predestination make the masses politically quietist, save for small minorities of Jihadists and Western influenced liberal activists.
 
It should be noted that obedience to authority refers to the obedience of the adherents of a specific Islamic sect to the rulers of their own sect. The Shiite partisans of Ali have been rebellious against the religious and temporal order of Sunni rulers since the early Islamic state. In 657, in Siffin, near the Syrian city of al-Raqqa, the army of the fourth caliph, Ali, faced the army of Syria's Umayyad governor, Muawiya. Likewise, Sunnis would not accept to be ruled by Shiites. Today, the Sunni rebellion against the Shiite regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq and the Syrian revolution against the Alawite regime of the Asad clan for the past three and half years; which killed 200,000 Syrians, are cases in point. Ironically, the forces of the Asad clan lost in 2014 the same city of al-Raqqa that was 1,357 years ago the theater of confrontation between Ali and Muawiya!
 
Curiously, Muslim, but non-Arab countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey, together representing almost two thirds of world Muslims, conduct democratic elections and allow female prime ministers and presidents. Obviously, these non-Arab Muslims have a more relaxed attitude towards Islamic dogma than Arabs do.
 
 
Why is the political persona of the Arab masses quietist?
 
There are four reasons:

First, the masses fear the security forces.

Secondly, the masses worry that change could result in a worse ruler.

Thirdly, the influence of Islam is strong on the Arab peoples. The Quran describes them as the “best nation evolved to mankind” (3:110). The Prophet, His Companions, the Quran, and the Sanctuaries in Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem are all Arabic. Arabs feel they are the guardians of an Arabic religion. Additionally, political frustrations during the past half-century over U.S. policies in the Middle East and Israeli humiliation have been drawing Arabs closer to Islam.

Obedience to authority is the hallmark of Islam’s political theory. In the harsh environment of the Arabian Desert, disobedience and strife could waste scarce water and staples. Islam is a way of life guided by the Quran and the Prophet’s actions and words in the Hadith. The Prophet Muhammad, a product of desert living, enshrined obedience to authority into the Islamic Creed. In 4:59, the Quran orders: “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you.” The Prophet has also reportedly said: “Hear and obey the emir, even if your back is whipped and your property is taken; hear and obey.”

Belief in predestination makes tyrannical rulers seem as if they were ordained by God’s will.

Many popular Islamic jurists opine that in the name of societal peace, years of unjust ruler are better that a day of societal strife.

Arab rulers exploit Islam to prolong their dictatorships. Pandering ulama preach that obedience to Muslim authority is a form of piety. Arab rulers consciously and deliberately nurture the Islamist tiger enough to threaten potential opponents at home and abroad with its dangers but not enough to threaten the regime's own hold on power.
 
Fourthly, in the Arab home, poverty drives the father to transform his children into a ‘security blanket’ for old age. Fear of destitution makes the father into what Nobel Laureate Najib Mahfouz calls the “central agent of repression,” constantly threatening his children with the wrath of God if they disobey him. At school, corporal punishment terrorizes students into blind obedience in classrooms. The manager at work, a product of the Arab milieu, demands obsequiousness from subordinates. In the thin Arab labor markets, the employee finds that blind obedience averts financial catastrophe.
 
 
An exception to the rule
 
Although the influence of verse 4:59 on the majority of the masses is strong, it has limits. Injustice, poverty, and corruption cannot be tolerated forever. There comes a breaking point that makes calls for rebellion by charismatic political leaders against tyranny and the promise of justice and prosperity alluring.
 
There is a religious basis for rebels to rise against tyranny. There are Sunna traditions that sanction rebellion against an Islamic ruler if he becomes impious or unjust. Abi Dawood, Muslim, and al-Nasai attribute to the Prophet the saying: “Whoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart” ( The Six Books, Sahih Muslim, tradition 177, p.688; and to Sunan Abi Dawood, ibid., tradition 4340, p. 1539; and to Sunan Al-Nasai, Ibid., tradition 5011 and 5012, p. 2411.
 
 
A crystal ball prediction 
 
How likely is it that rebellion might usher democratic rule to Arab countries? Aside from minor reforms, the short answer is unlikely. To rise against poverty, corruption, and injustice is one thing; to democratize is a different matter. Democracy is equality for all citizens--equality of women with Muslim men and equality of Christian citizens and other minorities with Muslims. Islam discriminates against women and non-Muslims. Shari'a law is the personal status law in all Arab countries, except Tunisia.  Democracy and discrimination are contradiction in terms.
 
Unless the historicity of the Quran and the Hadith are allowed to be examined, freely, rationally, and philosophically and without the fear of persecution under blasphemy laws and ulama intimidation genuine Arab democratic reforms will not evolve for generations, if ever.
 
 
What is the solution?
 
Since democratic governance is unlikely to grow in Arab soil, an alternative would be benevolent dictatorship. Except for its non-representative nature, benevolent dictatorship could deliver participatory rule, ensure justice for all, fight corruption, nepotism, sectarianism and tribalism. Such traits would also defuse the anger that breeds and inflames the Jihadists.

How likely is it that benevolent dictatorships might replace Arab rulers’ tyranny? The answer is that since benevolent dictatorship does not evolve institutionally there is no predictable pattern to discern here. There might be a coup d’état by a benevolent dictator tomorrow; or, there might not be one, ever.

Arab democracy is sheer fantasy.
 
 
 
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