Is democracy an essential prerequisite for justice?

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
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Democracy can no longer be held as the only political system with the greatest potential for institutionalizing justice. This premise faces many challenges as any historical analysis would reveal that justice without falling within the purview of democracy can be institutionalized and govern all facets of relations between the individual, society and the state.

Thus, it would be dangerous to present the democratic model as a moral standard and to attach no value to any other political system without the cleansing mechanism of democracy. This notion about the democratic model is contradicted by historical experience even in countries that have experienced and studied democracy.


In fact, such a line of thinking may lead to major political and social disasters. Democratic states may aim to achieve justice, but there are other states that have already achieved high standards of justice by according rights to all contending sides in a society.

Two principles of Vision 2030

Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 is based on two fundamental principles of the vision of the state that shape its political, social, economic and cultural system. The first principle relates to establishing the state within a tolerant religious framework.

Hence, can this concept be compared to the historical model of ‘tolerance’ put forward by philosophers seeking to defuse sedition among Christians and between Christians and Jews, as exemplified in the Treatise on Tolerance by Voltaire, John Locke and others.

During the NEOM inauguration conference, Prince Mohammed bin Salman underscored the importance of achieving tolerance, understanding and coexistence among civilizations as part of essential goals, lest we lose decades chasing down extremists and drain financial resources in the war on terror.

Justice can be institutionalized by political systems that adopt multiple administrative approaches. There is no precondition that democracy leads to justice

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

The other principle stated in the Vision alludes to high values. This shall enable the state to achieve higher achievements in accordance with its political system, institutions and laws. The pursuance of high values has already resulted in two significant developments within the span of a week. The first relates to initiation of anti-terrorism measures as well as decisive actions to end terror financing through the legislation of one of the most powerful laws to prosecute terrorism in the region.

The second development relates to the royal decree which commissioned the Crown Prince to prosecute those involved in corruption cases. Hours after the issuance of the royal orders, several princes, ministers and businessmen were charged with corruption.

Justice can be institutionalized by political systems that adopt multiple administrative approaches. There is no precondition that democracy leads to justice. In fact, all Arab attempts at politically institutionalizing democracy to guard corruption and favoritism, eventually paralyzed the vitality and movement of societies and nations.

Democracy no essential precondition

In his essay ‘Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical’, John Rawls writes on the relationship of this concept to the history of democratic inheritance, explaining that “democratic thought has shown almost two centuries ago that there is no consensus on how basic institutions should be organized within a democratic system if they are required to identify and secure the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens and to respond to the requirements of democratic equality.

There is a profound difference on how we can better realize the values of freedom and equality within the infrastructure of the society, in order to simplify let’s say that this internal struggle for the heritage of democratic thought is the same as that of the Locke tradition, who attaches greater importance to what Benjamin Constant calls the freedom of modernist, meaning the freedom of thought and belief, and some basic human and property rights, and the Rousseau tradition, which focuses on the freedom of the old, namely the equality of political freedoms and the values of public life. It is certain that these recognitions lack historical accuracy, but it can be a method to fix ideas.”

Also read: Governance systems in the Gulf and democracy

Rawls’ standards to achieve equitable justice stress that a person’s freedom should be in harmony with the public order along with his freedom and equality with all and consistent with the same system for all. Thus, Rawls writes: “There must be disparities for the best of the most disadvantaged members of society.”

Rawls is unique in this position that goes beyond instrumental democracy, to put the meanings of equality and arranging disparities to achieve justice, because democracy with its intellectual and historical facets is not a guarantor of justice, but can achieve justice within a political system that doesn’t just use democracy as an umbrella. The era of Habib Bourguiba in Tunisia is a clear and explicit example of this.

Finally, the blind reverence of the ‘democracy’ mechanism holds no value in the evolution of political concepts, and in the mix that each state creates for itself in accordance with its values and societal conditions, but with no contradiction with the essence of ‘justice’ as the core of political action.

This article is also available in Arabic.

Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat,, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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