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Arab world: Why still democracy deficit?

arab world.jpgMIDDLE EAST, July 31, 2011 - We will start this analyze by explaining firstly what democracy represents, etymological speaking: the word came from old Greek: “DEMOS” – meaning  people and ”KRATOS” – power, therefore “People Power”.

Democracy represents a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents, under a free electoral system.

Why still democracy deficit in Arab world?  

Arabs speak the same language , they have cultural beliefs, social structures and practices more or less common to all countries of the region. Moreover, they share the same predominant religion – Islam (although Lebanon and Egypt have significant Christian minorities).


But does economy, culture or religion offer a convincing explanation for the Arab democracy deficit?

A. Economy 

Maybe countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Yemen are not democracies because they are not yet economically developed. But we have to stress that many Arab countries are economical developed, that is if we base the analysis strictly on per capita income.  Kuwait is nearly as rich as Norway, and, in general, Gulf countries, like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, without doubt, are economically developed. At the same time, Syria and Yemen are not poorer in per capita terms than India or Indonesia, where democracy functions despite a lack of economic prosperity.

What Arab Gulf countries have in common?  

In the Gulf  countries, oil increased the power of the state and reduced or eliminated the need for taxation; this reduced the need for the government to solicit the acquiescence of its subjects to taxation. The lower level of taxation drives indirectly to less reason for publics to demand representation. So, can the  new political reality of people demanding democracy as form of government be compatible with such no taxation policy,  can representation take place without taxation? The answer is quite complicated.


In western countries, where democracy represents a reality, people have obligations, one of them being the payment of taxes,  but at the same time, rights: the right to know what happened with the money every person is paying as form of state contribution or taxes, the right of freedom of expression, thinking, in general fundamental human rights. All these are derived  from the natural logic that if I have obligations I should have rights, too. 

 B. Religion 

Some maintain that Islam is anti democracy, anti science, and anti civilization. We tend to classify this as an illogical  notion. Although force was used (among other tools one of which is dialogue) to spread Islam, but we can’t classify the main stream of  Islam as a violent religion, since that method was common in the entire world at that particular time. In the same period when Islam was spreading, Europe was in the medieval ages where war and violence were the only methods to settle disputes (the age of darkness).


The Muslim empires made great contributions to civilization. Spanish Moorish architecture in Granada's Alhambra palace and the adjacent Generalife gardens is a proof. Ibn al-Haytham is also regarded as the father of optics (his empirical proof of the intromission theory of light). The mathematician al-Khwārizmī, from whose name the word algorithm derives, is the father of algebra (which is named after his book, kitab al-jabr).

C. Culture  

While the west raises new generations based on the values of responsibility, accountability, independence, liberty and group work (which are essential to build a democracy), the Arabs still raise their children on the cherishment of family and / or tribe. Therefore, cultural adjustments are needed.


But when we see the young people in the Arabic streets shouting: “Freedom, Freedom, Freedom”, we know that cultural changes are taking place.  


But Nepotism is not a cultural Arabic or Muslim value. It was imported in 1930s and 1940s by Arab thinkers who were influenced by the Nazi or Stalinist ideologies.


So, we are speaking about two different political realities and this drives obligatory of two different politic perceptions and therefore, different social and economical  mentalities. But we also believe that it is possible, with the present revolutionary spring, and with economic and cultural adjustments, for democracy to progress  in the Arab World.

Written by Magda Cristina Butucea & Basel Adnan  


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