Do Westerners have a different meaning of Democracy than Arabs?
Many Arab countries are seeking freedom through the right of elections in different countries like Kuwait, Bahrain, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt,.....
The original meaning of democracy comes from the Greek language-democraci, which means "the people," and krato which means the "power of the people".
Today in the West, the current meaning of democracy has changed from its original Greek meaning that emphasis on people power. In the West, democracy is understood as meaning the authority of the majority to make decisions.
Democracy happens when people can affect change with their vote. Well, in some Middle East and African countries, we still have a long way to go!
United States president Lincoln (1809-1865) defined democracy as: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” This suggests a more active role of the citizens in government decision making because it is not just for the people, it is by the people. So, citizens have more access and influence on government actions.
Each nation has to develop its own type of democracy that is based on its own culture's experience and history.
Democracy is a form of government where a constitution is created that guarantees basic individual rights, political rights, independent courts of law, free elections, a transparent government, and a press and media that is free and open.
A free press means freedom of conscience for journalists and bloggers.
But most of the time people see a conflict between Islam and Democracy. Is there a conflict between Islam and Democracy?
According to Jamal (2006), "Islam is a monolithic, hierarchical faith devoid of individualism, liberalism, and political freedoms. But more important, these explanations assume that Islamic culture, Islamic interpretations, and Islamic religiosity all similarly stifle the democratic process and do so the world over." (Jamal, 2006, p. 53).
Then, as President Obama has suggested, in order to institute democracy, all people must be included, even Islamic fundamentalists
According to Ottaway, Schwedler, Telhami, & Saad (2005), Islamic fundamentalists "are substantial, they are on the ground, they are disciplined, and they are committed. They have been performing important social services for the poor and the needy, and they have managed to project an image of a corruption-free political force in contrasts to regimes that are plagued by corruption." (p. 11)
In Egypt and in Algeria, the governments are trying to scare the population with the Islamic fundamentalists threat in order to maintain their regime plagued by corruption.
Many Islamists scholars like Mazrui (2004) agree about the strong relationship between Islam and democracy. He states that "some Democratic principles have been part of Islam from the beginning."
Then, it is possible to have a secular-Muslim government. We can have democratic Middle East countries. We can have Muslim secular states!
A secular state involves a neutral stance toward different religious beliefs. A secular state has no preferential links with any religion in general.
We should not let the Islamists political parties to challenge secularism on Sharia based arguments but we should let the Islamist political parties have a voice in the Middle East countries.
We should develop a version of secularism which would not ostracize manifestations of religious beliefs from the public sphere.
This is what democracy is about.
Jamal, A. (2006). Reassessing support for Islam and democracy in the Arab world? Evidence
from Egypt and Jordan. World Affairs, 169(2).
Ottaway M., Schwedler, J. Telhami, S., & Saad, E. I. (2005). Democracy: Rising tide or
mirage? Middle East Policy, XII(2), 1-27
Sarsar, S. (2006). Quantifying Arab democracy: Democracy in the Middle East. Middle East
Quarterly, XII(3), 21-28
Scahill, J. (2005). Bush’s war against Al-Jazeera. Retrieved on April 4, 1-2, from