To what extent are the new religious components in the nascent Arab democracies a threat?
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To what extent are the new religious components in the nascent Arab democracies a threat?

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A short reflexion about the new religious components in the Arab world in the light of the religious components within the Western democracies.

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Published by
Published 28 June 2012
Reads 98
Language English
Amman, Jordan
26.04.2012
To what extent are the new religious components in the
nascent Arab democracies a threat?
When the question of the future of the Arab countries after the “revolutions” in 2011 comes out, the
question of the rising Islamist power comes back as a serenade. Most people speaking in
conferences, writing in the media, or coming from the civil society are addressing their fears about
the new religious component in the Arab countries.
Should we fear the Islamist political parties? Should the civil society try to fight them and protect
“Democracy” from their antidemocratic intentions?
I will neither pretend to understand Islam or Islamist power, nor given any predictions in this
matter. Nonetheless, I would like to raise some key issues that appear to have been forgotten in
discussions and debates about the phenomenal success of the Islamist political parties. Indeed, if
any generalization about the aftermaths of strong Islamist political parties is meaningless, I think
that a genuine analysis of what underlines these debates can be relevant. Effectively, most of them
are sustained by unconscious comparisons with European political and societal systems which are
usually considered as
religiously free
and
democratic.
Both of these assertions need to be
correctly analyzed.
My first point concerns the term of “Democracy”. Too often, we are wondering whether the
Islamists will be able to build a genuine democracy or whether they are going to ruin it. The main
issue in this kind of discussion is the tacit acceptance of “Democracy” as a clear and defined entity,
which in reality does not exist as such.
The definition of democracy has become settled according to the European experience, with some
legitimacy regarding the fact that European democracies are the oldest and so far the most
efficient. Nonetheless, it is essential to underscore that each country in Europe has developed its
own political structure which could be considered more or less close to a “Democracy”, that is to
say a political structure which gives the power to run the State to the “people”.
Even if some common principles are respected throughout Europe, there is no uniformity in
matters of democracy. For example, the Swiss citizens benefit from a very wide range of political
powers. They have the right of
initiative
, which is the right of proposing a new law or the right of
referendum
, consisting in the possibility to contest a law approved by the Parliament without
previous consultation of the population. At the same time, the French citizens elect their president
and their Parliament every five year only. The power given to the French citizens is considerably
reduced in comparison to those given to the Swiss people.
As the democratic systems are tremendously various and diverse throughout Europe, we should
admit that most probably the Arab countries will also develop their own and various political
systems in their region. A democracy can absorb many different practices without being threatened
and each Arab country will choose how far it wants to involve Islam values and practices in its
political structures.
My second point concerns the presence of religious parties in a democratic political life. The
Western World is sustained by Christian values, and, except in the case of France, partly
constituted by religious political parties which are more or less powerful. The abortion laws are a
good example of the power of some religious, especially catholic political parties and of the respect
of religious values in different countries in Europe. In Ireland, abortion is allowed only if the
mother's life is threatened to death, while in Switzerland abortion is allowed upon request, but not
after a certain number of months of pregnancy..
Without speaking about the situation in the United State where various rising Christian lobbies are
very powerful in the political life and convey some very antidemocratic positions, we can say that
democracies in the Western World have managed to make a compromise with religious
components or values at the same time along
with developing a democratic system. This
evolution was not easy and it took a lot of time to accommodate both the secular and the religious
components, but up to now we can say that the Western World was pretty successful in this
adventure.
Coming back to the situation in the Arab region, I cannot make any prognostic but I wanted to raise
the fact that to integrate religious political parties and religious values in a democratic political
structure is not only possible, but also the most usual way that European countries have found to
deal with the religious components. Two main issues seem to be discussed and probably disputed
among the Arab society: the respect of minorities and the plurality. Without both elements, we
cannot speak about democratic systems anymore. Except for these points, the spectrum of
possibilities to develop a democratic system and let the Arab region free to organize itself as it will
suit it best seems wide.
The process is long but I am anxious to see how the Arab region will be able to reinvent the
concept of democracy for this part of the World.