Sunday, 24 October 2010

Democracy alive and unwell

Ever since the notion of democracy had been conceived by the Grecian philosopher Plato and to this very day a universally accepted definition for the word fails to exist. With the word democracy you are allowed to paint a picture of man comfortable in the arms of equality and freedom. With democracy the image is of beauty but is it of reality?

Idealistically, democracy should rise from the people’s need for freedom, from their endless pursuit of equality. It should come from within the country and not be perceived as a foreign idea that if embraced will manifest into a foreign entity that will wreak havoc among the people. The essence of democracy is enticing and that is why throughout history it has been the West’s Trojan Horse. A beautiful idea gifted to the world, which in most times, hides within it the tools for the deconstruction of a country.

One day and on a whim the United States government decided that the former ruler of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, is a tyrant predictably after he similarly woke up one day and decided America is one too. The United States government overthrew, prosecuted and sentenced the tyrant to death all the while aiming to make Iraq a democratic country. Seven years on and not only has the United States failed to democratise Iraq, its mere introduction of the idea had sent its people spinning in a whirlwind of chaos dividing the land and forcing them into a sectarian war.

Later, we witnessed the democracy crusaders attempting to convert the people of Afghanistan. In theory, democracy seems to bring light to the people engulfed in the darkness of oppression. But in all practicality, this idea being successfully implemented in Afghanistan at this moment in time is very optimistic and a far cry from reality. Nevertheless, the ever-optimistic America trudged on with its plan. Yet, no sooner than the voting began than we heard the inevitable cries of corruption and forging of votes. Not to mention the Taliban raiding voting booths armed with weapons and their casual threats of face mutilation and finger-chopping.

There must be some basic prerequisites present before democracy can settle comfortably among the people. Elements such as education and literacy and an overall understanding of this ideological concept the people are expected to readily adopt. There also has to exist some sort of political stability within a country before it begins taking the shape of a democratic entity. And most importantly a country should have the choice of whether or not it wishes to be governed by this particular type of democracy. Because it is not enough to be labelled democratic, there is more to this self-governing idea than just a name.

The democratic experiment continued to fail around the world as we witnessed the 2009 Iranian presidential elections. We saw democracy crumble in the streets of Tehran as its people took to them in protest, accusing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of election fraud.

Meanwhile, in Arab countries we continue to be told that democracy resides. Yet their leaders go on winning every election by staggering numbers in the 99th percentiles, numbers that never waiver regardless of the public’s opinion on their governance. 

The world considers them democratic countries but are they really so when they start silencing and manipulating the media? And when they impose regulations on telecommunication companies in efforts to hinder the sway of voters at the first sight of a true opposing candidate? Arab countries are tackling a political genetic mutation, a ‘democratorship’ if you will, and so we continue to witness unabashed non-democratic actions from these democratic countries.

The closest the Gulf has come to democracy is through the Kuwaiti parliament known as the Kuwait National Assembly. Although it faces the occasional conflicts with Kuwait’s Crown Prince it seems to work for the people of Kuwait because it rose from the people of Kuwait. It works because Kuwaitis saw a need for it and chose to utilise it as best they could. Kuwait is officially a constitutional monarchy, which simply means that its legislative power is shared between the Crown Prince and the National Assembly. 

This notion of democracy seems to be the proverbial carrot dangling before our faces teasing us to forever pursue it, within our reach yet unreachable. The solution is to stop looking forward and look around for a change. Look up, look down, look to your right and to your left for the answer could be around you while you continue to move ahead. 

Contrary to Western beliefs, democracy is not solely a Western idea. In Islam the Quran has instructed the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) to “consult with them upon the conduct of affairs.” (Quran 3:159). And for a society of similar publics “whose rule is based upon consultation (Shura) among themselves” (Quran 42:38). Democracy does not need to be in the Western form for it to exist. It can grow, however, it wants as long as its aim is equality. 

Democracy’s aim is to treat people as equals by providing similar rights and ensuring their comfort and happiness. If that is its sole purpose then, by definition, in a land where people are already happy and content there exists no need for democracy. Democracy’s existence in a place where that aim has already been realised seems to be both irrelevant and confusing. 

Democracy should always be viewed through a more philosophical perspective rather than a political one because after all democracy was born to a philosopher and murdered by a politician.


This article was published in The Gulf Today on 24th October, 2010.






1 comment:

  1. Interesting column, but several points of contention:

    "Democracy’s aim is to treat people as equals by providing similar rights and ensuring their comfort and happiness."

    I'm not sure where you're getting this idea. If you go by a major aim in the US Declaration of Independence, "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Nothing about comfort in there (or the Preamble to the US Constitution or many other Lockeian ideas). And only the pursuit of happiness is provided for, since happiness can never be guaranteed, except in a utopia that will never exist.

    So your statement: "This notion of democracy seems to be the proverbial carrot dangling before our faces teasing us to forever pursue it, within our reach yet unreachable," is actually very much true. Democracies are never perfect; indeed, because they admit the imperfection of governance and merely provide a mechanism to constrain the governors, they admit that humans and governments are imperfect and require accountability. In the end, this works out better in practice than essentially every other form of governance.

    "If that is its sole purpose then, by definition, in a land where people are already happy and content there exists no need for democracy."

    I highly, highly doubt that applies to anywhere in the Middle East, or even most of the world, at the moment. Humans have an innate urge for expression, whether in speech or action, and authoritarian countries will never allow that to take place outside of controlled environments (i.e. Sharjah's "Art Show").

    "Democracy does not need to be in the Western form for it to exist. It can grow, however, it wants as long as its aim is equality."

    What other form would you suggest? Also, the social contract in most democracies seems to be based more on equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. Equality of everything veers more towards Marxian/Communist ideas.

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