Monday, May 23, 2005

Democracy's not a devil for Islamists

Extract from...
The Australian: Democracy's not a devil for Islamists [May 23, 2005] by Saad Eddin Ibrahim, May 23, 2005

ELECTION results around the Middle East mark a new trend: Islamist political parties those that base their platforms on Islamic law are highly popular.

Where elections are held, Islamists do well: Hamas among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; the religiously oriented Shi'ite coalition in Iraq; a parliamentary faction in Morocco; and, most significantly, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey.

Democracy movements in Lebanon, Egypt and elsewhere in the region must face the challenge of incorporating Islamist parties into democratic systems.

But can the Islamists be trusted? If they rise to power, will they respect the rights of minorities and women and leave office when voted out? Will they tolerate dissent? Or will such elections be based on 'one man, one vote, one time?' "

....The late King Hussein (in Jordan) took up this challenge in 1989.... The Islamists signed on, pledging their respect for the rules of the game. In the four ministries the Islamists ran, they imposed restrictions on female staff members, triggering widespread protests that ultimately forced the four ministers to resign. Their share of the vote in subsequent elections declined sharply.

.....political reform ought to include them under the following conditions:

* Respect for the national constitution, the rule of law, and the independence of the judiciary.
* Acceptance of the rotation of power, based on free, fair and internationally monitored elections.
* Guaranteed equal rights and full political participation for non-Muslim minorities.
* Full and equal participation by women in public life.

Whatever one thinks of American military intervention, one must concede that it has altered the region's dynamics. Domestic opposition forces, while distancing themselves from the US, have been markedly emboldened in Lebanon, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. We are all watching for signs of opening among our neighbours.

Something about the past few months feels new and irreversible. Too many people in too many places are defying their oppressors and taking risks for freedom.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian pro-democracy and peace activist, is Professor of Political Sociology at the American University in Cairo and heads the Ibn Khaldun Centre.

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