A realist case for advancing Arab democracy


Despite the reportedly path-breaking retreat from even the rhetoric of promoting democracy and human rights, there is a robust realist argument for advancing freedom in the Middle East, according to Elliott Abrams (above), a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The principal arguments against Arab democracy – the Islamist advantage and the security dilemma – are themselves flawed, notes Abrams, author of Realism and Democracy. The Islamists’ organizational and ideological edge is eroded when citizens realize they have no policies or solutions to real-world problems, while the jihadist threat can never be solved by security actions alone.

Only greater openness will allow the emergence of viable political alternatives to Islamists and jihadists, adds Abrams a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

Jihadis “are neither losers nor nihilists. . . . These perpetrators, by the standards of their own belief, are virtuous people,” according to Yigal Carmon, the driving force behind the Middle East Media Research Institute, whose self-defined goal is to “bridge the language gap between the Middle East and the West,”  notes NED board member George Weigel:

That means that the only long-term answer to the bloody borders between “Islam and the rest”—borders than now reach deeply into Western societies—is for Islam to undertake a far-reaching internal reform, which purifies the faith and leads Islam to develop, from within its own resources, a case for religious tolerance and political pluralism.

Carmon’s essay should be widely read, especially by politicians, journalists, scholars and citizens who want to foster a responsible, civil and decent public discussion about the ideological sources of terrorism and how we—and our fellow Muslim citizens—can defeat it, notes Rayyan Islam. Carmon writes:

Contrary to the approach of the Western leaders, who blame the evil character of the perpetrators while absolving the faith they follow, the truth is that these perpetrators, by the standards of their own belief, are virtuous people who follow the directives of the Koran [48:29]: “Be fierce towards the infidels, merciful towards each other.” The problem lies not in the perpetrators’ innate character but in some of the core values of their religious belief system. Indeed, their faith—any faith—includes elements that are beautiful alongside elements that are malevolent. Denying that these malevolent elements are part of the faith, as the Western leaders do, is wrong. It is such denial that is unhelpful; in fact, it is self-deception.

While most people in the Arab world are religious, they do not view Islam as “a comprehensive system of values and governance,” notes Mark Habeeb, East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University.

A new study finds that as “an ideology bent on inserting more religion — including sharia — into politics and the legal system,” the Muslim Brotherhood could not gain acceptability by the majority in Arab countries, he writes for Middle East Online.

The Muslim Brotherhood began as an opposition movement….opposition to Westernisation characterized by post-independence secular regimes in the Middle East. Brotherhood opposition, however, was based on an ideology determined to insert religion into politics and the legal system, notes Nawaf Obaid, a visiting fellow Harvard University’s Belfer Centre for Science and International Affairs and the author of “The Muslim Brotherhood: A Failure in Political Evolution.” This has made it unacceptable to the majority in most Arab countries that “have grown increasingly inimical to such insertion.”

Brotherhood parties will never succeed in achieving lasting political success because “its history is far too riddled with infighting, violence and resistance to give way to a cohesive organization that will ever gain widespread support as a source of respectable political leadership in the Arab world.”





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