Since the outbreak of riots in the Middle East early this year, there has been much commentary arguing that this marks the only opportunity for the Arab world to democratise.
After the October election in Tunisia, the “Islamist” party Ennahda won 41.5% of the vote. And also in October, Libya’s National Transitional Council leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil declared that religion would serve their country better than anything else.
As well, there’s believable speculation that were Egypt to have an election, as is slated for November, the Muslim Brotherhood, a party that espouses Sharia as a source of legislation, is poised to sweep the elections.
What is interesting for Tunisia is that Ennahda is being asked to clarify that it will establish a secular and democratic state. And they have budged! But even then, they have not survived the wrath of the Western media, one that has taken on to speaking for their foreign offices.
Patronising comments like it is hoped Ennahda will rule “intelligently” and that “it is not necessarily a darker force,” have been doing the rounds.
Of course, this does not only despise the political ambitions of the Tunisians, but also treats them as little children who could have made a mistake voting for Ennahda.
I do not know if all this commentary is aware that there were secular parties that contested and were defeated. The democratic West is keen on exporting democracy to the Muslim world, for it gives life to capitalism.
In view of this much maligned religion, with the war on terror still raging and with Muslims bearing the brunt, why are these rioters-cum-liberators opting for Islamic states as opposed to full secular democracies, even in places where the West’s assistance exceeded legal boundaries?
It starts with the economy. The economic crisis in the West has exposed the foundations of democracy, not only as weak but also as dangerous to the public spirit. This has made the system very unlikable and hard to export.
The ‘Occupy the World’ (OW) movements make this point very clear. The OWs have made a strong case against capitalism, democracy’s longtime partner. Economists have often euphemized capitalism to mean free markets, i.e., the free interaction of forces of demand and supply.
However, this has been at only a rhetorical level. Indeed the present shape of capitalism amounts to “survival for the fittest”– it has made the world look like a jungle. After reading Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, the brain behind capitalism, it is clear that capitalism has been grossly abused, and largely because of its weaknesses at ensuring checks.
Holding placards reading, “Capitalism is over”, “Pepper Spray Goldman Sachs”, “We are the 99%,” the OWs are showing the world a major weakness with a system that has shouldered capitalism — democracy.
In a travel piece, “Inside the American Dream,” journalist Andrew Mwenda notes that “the top 20% take 80% of the total income and the 80% of the Americans share the 20%.”
Also, democracy espouses one big lie: power belongs to the people in which people realise that their power only stops at elections. How does the American public contain a democracy from crime both at home and abroad, considering the fact that all other arms of government, including the media, can be manipulated?
The shift to religion perhaps comes to address two major elements of the community that are absent in secular democracies; the morality of the leader and the indispensability of the public.
It is sad that many western intellectuals often confuse human rights and democracy. Human rights can be ensured under any dispensation, for they are just a reflection of the conscience of the people, for any leader to guard, but they are not a product of a system.
Yet, a good public service sector is a key human right. Perhaps this might partly explain why Gaddafi lasted over four decades. Religious based republics seek to establish a consultable group of a few, often the intelligent and the rich, not the crowd as with democracy.
This does not mean people do not hold them accountable; they do, and there will often be more than one way of doing this. But this also means, to do a good thing for the public, leaders do not have to look through a contract, neither do they have to exploit a loose end of the contract to plot mischief.
It is unfortunate that the world has not had the opportunity to appreciate a movement of this nature.
The author is an editor at Fountain Publishers.