Supporting Arab democrats networking [Archives:2004/704/Opinion]

January 19 2004

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
It is really good to see people from all Arab countries and the world group together to discuss their concerns and fears over democracy in their countries. Meetings like that of the National Democratic Institute's Gulf Forum for Political Action held last year in Sana'a and the recent Inter-Governmental Regional Conference on Democracy, Human Rights and the role of the ICC open up the way for democrats and human rights activists in the Arab world to share their views and voice their concerns over future of democracy in their countries. It is interesting that such networking of democrats is beginning to shape up despite of taboos and hurdles set up by Arab tyrannical regimes which still consider democracy a kind luxury. I believe that these totalitarian Arab political regimes have started to lose control over democracy fighters, mainly because they are under pressure of the democratic world and they should, therefore, understand well that they can no longer play the same old game with their opponents as democracy has now become a global dogma of the time that nobody, and no country, can deny or ignore. It has proved to be the only key to real and sustainable development. In fact, there is no development without democracy. It is a good and laudable step that the Americans and Europeans have started focusing on networking advocates of such values in the Arab world. These people should no more be put down and must get a free room to come together and discuss their problems, concerns and how they can participate in the overall welfare of their peoples. They should be able to voice their ideas at least like the extremists and fundamentalists who could communicate and build up their extremist networks all over the Arab and Islamic world without any harassment from ruling dictatorial regimes. On the contrary, they facilitated and supported their task as a part of coalition between the two parties. These groups have been able to operate and proliferate their fanatic ideas in return for giving a religious legitimacy and approval from the religious institution for the rule of these dictators who are still in power for decades.
Arab political regimes believe in their hearts, even if they now try to show the opposite, that democracy is a real threat and challenge to their rule and thus, they are ready to harass democrats, dubbing them as agents or traitors.
This tyrannical culture, having religious grounds, has produced fanatics and extremists who still believe that democracy means infidelity and is an idea the West is trying to impose on us so as to defeat us as Muslims and Islam at large. Religious edicts or fatwas have even been issued accusing democracy of being a means to demolish Islamic values. It is even surprising to hear people saying that we do not need the democracy of the West and that we should start our own democracy based on our traditions. It is a stupid argument as democracy can not be but a global value that has nothing to do with religions or races. Democracy means respect of human rights, freedoms and above all, the governance of the people. It is, in short, a protection of human dignity.
Democracy is for our interests and a major drive for development and prosperity. Some people have started talking about a democracy imposed from outside and that we do not need this kind of democracy. I do not think that this is the problem; if the U.S. wants to democratize the Arab world, that is fine as long as democracy means our welfare. The initiative made by Colin Powell to democratize the region is warmly welcomed as we need it more than the U.S. and should work to make this initiative materialize as we have failed throughout decades to achieve this objective. It is also good that our school curriculum preaching violence and extremism should be changed. Let me ask, what is our alternative for Powell's initiative? Nothing! Yes, nothing! We have failed and we always tend to blame this failure on sometimes the U.S. or Israel. It is their interests and they have the right to defend them. But, what are supposed to do to come out of our impasse? We badly need to get rid of our tribalism in the Arab world. We need to establish institutionalized societies ruled by law and order rather than tribe or one man show. This culture has to be challenged now.
To drive the point home, I would like to say that it is now time for democrats and human rights activists in the Arab and Muslim countries to network and build a structure that can influence decision makers and work for a better tomorrow. The US and Europe should strongly support such networks so as these countries ruled by dictators and absolute monarchies can democratize. However, only real democracy and human rights fighters, not the clown ones or government-affiliated people or NGOs, should be supported and networked as these political regimes know well how to spoil any good idea that does not fall in line with their interests. In other words, democracy should not be just a tolerance given by the rulers as Arab regimes like their people to understand democracy. But, it is not like that. This is because tolerance of the rulers is different from democratic rights ensured by the law and constitution. The first can be usurped; it is like a gift. Arab people do not want this gift as democracy is a basic human right that can not mean only elections but it has other social and economic aspects. It is equality, accountability and freedom and above all, the rule of law. Our fight for democracy is actually now a matter of life and death and this networking of democracy fighters will help reach this end.