K. R. CAMA ORIENTAL INSTITUTE, MUMBAI
Democracy In Islam: Perceptions, Challenges and
Implications of The Arab Spring
Dr. Zeenat Shaukat Ali
Founder Director General, Wisdom Foundation
(World Institute of Islamic Studies for Dialogue, Mediation Gender and Peace.)
1st March 2011
Revised 1st April 2012
The debate about the fragility of democracy in Islamic societies - with a particular focus on the Middle East - has grown in intensity throughout the twentieth century. It has been propelled by a combination of global and regional factors focusing largely on the real or imagined obstacles to democratic development. Among such features are, encouragement of authoritarian political structures or a social order antithetical to freedom, repressive legal structures and Islam in general.
PRINCIPLE OF CONSULTATION
DEMOCRACY AND ISLAM
Over the past decades, the issue of democratization has dominated the analysis of political change, reflecting the dramatic transitions from authoritarian rules in Southern and Eastern Europe, Latin America and East Asia. While the new literature on democratization is increasing, a growing number of specialists have sought to identify developments that signal the early phases of, a transformation of state, society and democratic patterns gaining visibility in the Muslim world.
Based on studies relating to different regimes and institutional settings, political analysts suggest that, although important changes have occurred in some parts of the Muslim world, democracy lags behind. One reason for this seems to be that we inherit a historical legacy that encourages a mutually hostile mirror image in the interaction between Islam and Western democracy. Hence some Islamic thinkers equate Western democracy with extreme social permissiveness and moral dissolution, while others conceive this, ‘alien import’, as a neocolonialist ploy to subvert the social fabric of Muslim society. Similarly, a dominant Western reduces the image of Islam to an autocracy or a n exclusive monarchy.
In the post-Colonial period, several revolutionary regimes surviving monarchies and traditional regimes in the Arab world shared the desire to preserve and utilize both the political apparatus of democratization. In the prolonged and lengthy debate about how independence from foreign powers should be achieved, the stream of the democratic form of government was held to be acceptable by several renowned leaders.
According to the Qur’an, the state is governed through the means of consultation or counsel (Shura). This being the foundation stone of government resembles any modern day Parliament .The key is the principle that all business relating to the community needs be transacted through mutual consultation and requires transparency. It cannot be arbitrary. This dictum is extended to the Holy Prophet himself: “And take counsel with them in all matters of public concern; then when thou hast decided upon a course of action, place thy trust in God” (3:159). Hence the injunctions, implying that government by consent, council, must be regarded as one of the fundamental clauses of the Qur’anic legislation relating to statecraft. The pronoun ‘them’ relates to the whole community – while the word al-amr , occurring in this context, as well as in the much earlier revealed phrases amru hum shura bayanaham (42:38), denotes all affairs of public concern, including state administration.
THE ARAB AWAKENING OR THE ARAB SPRING: A BRIEF OVERVIEW
The long awaited winds of change have recently swept across the Arab world marking the possibilities of a distinct modification in the politics of the Middle East. The dramatic social and political unrest was first visible when communities in large numbers took to the streets, challenging the sovereignty and domination of self-seeking, corrupt, autocratic leaders refusing to be further intimidated or cowed down in silence. The makeover is welcome as it can usher in the long standing transformation and transition of the democratic process of a region long controlled by dictators. Although this awakening was not limited to Arab countries yet it is popularly termed as the Arab Spring.
Numerous factors have led to the protests, including dictatorship or absolute monarchy, human rights violations, government corruption , economic decline, unemployment, extreme poverty, and a number of demographic structural factors, such as a large percentage of educated unemployed dissatisfied youth within the population.
The entire region of the Middle East for decades has been marked by tumult and uncertainty, sundered and agitated by inconclusive wars in Afghanistan, dysfunctional peace in Iraq, (where thousands of lives have been lost), corroded states and divided societies like Yemen and Libya.
The visible change in Middle East societies towards democratic turn needs to be sustained. For this, the pursuit of information and education, civic responsibilities, a platform to voice their aspirations, overcome injustice, and excel in what they do is requisite. This applies to citizens of Muslim countries as to those of any other.
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