Enlightened Arabs caught in democratic predicament – Mideast culture shuns change

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Khaled Aljenfawi
Khaled Aljenfawi

The storming on Saturday of the Iraqi parliament by protestors, apparently mostly followers of the powerful cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, may indicate the beginning of a political meltdown in the Iraqi capital. Similar scenes of chaos, and frequently the sudden and dramatic escalation of the political environments in the post-Arab Spring period have been happening for years.

However, what seems to be missing in the few “democratic” upheavals in the Middle East is not democratic aspirations or the implementation of democratic processes, but the democratic mentality. In other words, it is almost impossible to make a particular people democratic when a majority of them seems to have no desire for democracy.

It is also difficult to enforce democratic ideals upon a society if the reigning social and cultural ideas contradict with the basic tenets of democracy.

For example, what seems at fault in most democratic experiments in the Middle East, except in Israel, is the cultural and intellectual dissonance it usually creates in some parts of the Arab social and political environment. It is not far-fetched to argue here that there seems to be something in the Middle Eastern mind, which fundamentally refuses democratic rights and entitlements, especially for the other.

One can certainly ask the following question about the outcome of the Arab Spring: Did the political upheaval in the aftermath of the Arab Spring lead to the uprooting of already entrenched cultural, sectarian and racial prejudices in the Middle East? I would argue that the political turmoil resulting from the few and mostly faulty revolutions in the Arab World did not initiate a corresponding change in the general Arab public mind & psyche.

The rise of the sectarian and chauvinistic racial discourses in some Arab Spring countries underline the root of the problem in the region: exploiting democratic apparatuses to entrench further religious, sectarian and racial discrimination and divides. Democratization efforts in the Middle East seem to bring about the opposite results: intolerance, sectarianism, chauvinism, social and political instability. One of the primary reasons behind the tendency of Middle-Eastern democracy to transform into social, political and cultural nightmares is the lack of the culture of democratic dialogue in the general social environment. It is also very simplistic to blame previous Western colonialism and imperialism for some of the democratic catastrophes of the Middle East.

Few Middle Easterners seem genetically engineered toward intolerance, extreme sentimentalism and inhumanity toward each other and against the world! Western educated and democratically inclined Arabs have few options to choose from in the Middle East; either continue to preach tolerance and directly become accused of being “Western collaborators” or traitors of the faith, or to keep silent or flee to the lands of happy souls!


By Khaled Aljenfawi

This news has been read 29866 times!

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