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A dangerous sermon called democracy

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

Published: Updated:

There is always a weapon to point at those who disagree with you. Arabism has been used against those accused of being Zionists. Islam has been used against those viewed as “heretics.” For years now, many have used “democracy” as a weapon against the enemies of freedom.

What’s strange is that lovers of democracy are supposed to believe in the value of freedom, including in other people’s freedom to express opposing ideas. However, they’ve turned democracy into a pure doctrine that separates between pious people and wrongdoers. Even the Muslim Brotherhood, who are masters at accusing others of infidelity, raise the slogan of democracy and chant in the name of freedom!

Democracy is neither a doctrine nor an ideology that can be applied at any time or anywhere. The biggest threat lies in simplifying it or turning it into some kind of a romantic poem or an ethical sermon while thinking that praising it means it’s been achieved. Democracy is a not a ready-mix and achieving it does not mean the end of problems but may rather signify entering a long tunnel of crises.

Successful models

In his book Political Order In Changing Societies, American thinker Samuel P. Huntington came up with the controversial conclusion which stipulates that democracy’s success in countries like South Korea was mainly due to the economic growth which preceded adopting a democratic system.

Democracy is dangerous when it turns into a sermon and a slogan. It promises of a social and political paradise that may turn into hell on earth.

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

Industrial growth, a high level of education and other factors made it easy for South Korea to adopt a democratic system that later helped it flourish. This also explains the success of democracy in Western Europe. It’s said that Spain’s democracy would not have succeeded if it hadn’t been for economic reforms which happened in the last decade of military dictator Franco’s rule. It’s believed that these reforms led to radical changes in the social structure as many had to travel and settle in cities, thus leading to a rise in individualism. Why did the democracy which was imposed on Japan succeed? It’s because it was supported with a solid economic and cultural structure which enabled it to quickly enter the modern world.

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Ever since the era of Emperor Meiji and due to the desire to achieve military superiority and to protect its lands, Japan entered a new wave of modernization. In 1871, a group of high-ranking Japanese officials went to Europe and America to check the industrial development. They returned to Japan two years later. The country then endeavored towards modernization. It sent its students to study in foreign countries, brought foreign experts, improved education and planted the values of hard work and linked them to national identity. This is exactly why it was not difficult to integrate the democratic experience following a long history of modernization. Why did Chile succeed before others in Latin America? For the same reason.

There are of course other reasons such as the spread of enlightenment ideas in Europe or ideological revolutions which altered the roots of culture and facilitated the process of democratic transition. Enlightenment thinkers clearly focused on the importance of intellectual change which precedes political change. Noting the significance of cultural change, famous French Philosopher Voltaire once said in a letter addressed to a woman, that it’s important that people we live among are enlightened and for this enlightenment to gradually spread, as only then that people, even our ignorant enemies who hate logic and virtue, will respect us.

Significance of culture

Culture protects societies from decline. The French and the Britons will maintain the gains of enlightenment, modernization, human rights and tolerance and will not go back to the Middle Ages or clash due to sectarian or religious identities. Their culture will protect them from divisions and conflicts even if they confront economic and political difficulties.

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This indicates the significance of culture in providing stability away from divisions which fragile societies may suffer from. Late thinker Georges Tarabichi highlighted this when he said that democracy is not just about elections as what’s more important is the mind which during regressive cultural circumstances may stand against noble values like freedom and justice.

One of the reasons behind the emergence of democracy in western Europe is the fact that the bourgeois class embraced it. There’s something like a historical law which stipulates that “there is no democracy without bourgeoisie.” It’s well-known that this category embraced people who had enlightened ideas and protected them from extremists, thus allowing their ideas to eventually reach many people.

Even if the bourgeoisie suffers from corruption, it’s the only category capable of change. The average income is an indicator of whether democracy is successful or lacking. The higher the average income, the easier the situation. Democracy. however, stumbles when the average income is low. An average income here is conditional on being a real income and not as a reflection of countries’ wealth thanks to natural resources like the case is with Gulf countries.

Political greed

These are only some of the reasons regarding the objective circumstances which lead to the prosperity of successful democracies. Therefore, countries must not jump into the unknown out of political greed and even when it leads to chaos and divisions.

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In the democratic state of Pakistan, there is a decline in the levels of education and health. Pakistan is also one of the poorest countries in the world and it would almost slip into chaos if it hadn’t been for the army’s control. Democratic Nigeria suffers from corruption, poverty, terrorism and racist and sectarian clashes while the state is incapable of providing the simplest services. We can see how in democratic Arab countries, development has been impeded and how the social fabric was deeply divided due to political polarization which appeals to tribal, familial or sectarian sentiment. In these countries, you are categorized even if you want to be a human first and a patriot second. An entire country may face obstruction over confrontations on various issues just for the sake of political gains during elections.

Any measures that aim to develop education, culture or women’s rights can be put on hold by voters themselves. One voter, for instance, once demanded trying a female student over heresy. By doing so, he’s actually addressing the instincts of the voters who cheered for him. Democracy is dangerous when it turns into a sermon and a slogan. It promises of a social and political paradise that may turn into hell on earth.

This article is also available in Arabic.
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Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain.

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