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Arab World at the doorstep of a new era and a wave of Democracy
Author/Source: Muzaffar K Awan  (mkawanmd@yahoo.com) Posted by: admin
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With the wind of change moving to Libya after people brought down the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, questions arise as to how it is going to be possible to establish democracies out of decades-old autocratic regimes and whether or not Turkey and Indonesia can be models? I can only say that the rest of the Muslim world can be inspired by Turkey and Indonesia but it's always the case with these sorts of changes that each country has to find its own way.

Somehow when I listen to debates and discussions in Pakistani media on changes in North Africa and the Middle East, they have different interpretations of the situation .Most Pakistani journalists think it is just change of faces in Tunisia and Egypt and status quo will remain. I beg to differ with them because these changes are different than a charismatic leader or a popular political party trying to bringing about a change from grassroots.

An important factor that distinguishes Tunisia and Egypt along with , Bahrain and Algeria, etc., is this fourth democratic wave of today following the third wave of democracy that had begun in southern Europe in the mid-1970s and continued with the transformation of many authoritarian regimes in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe during the 1980s and 1990s. Arab and the Muslim world missed out on the third democratic wave somehow.

Lack of economic decline has been the main culprit behind mass movements of today. In fact these countries have enjoyed a degree of economic growth and relative macroeconomic stability. However, what is common in all of these countries experiencing turmoil today is the rising political consciousness of a growing middle class , the vacuum created by a nonexistent organized opposition and filling of the vacuum and communication gap with the globalization of IT technology, especially among a frustrated youth. Virtually, such an alternative opposition is able to organize in a short period of time and reach millions in order to overwhelm autocratic governments and their armed forces. If it weren’t millions, the armed forces that had remained loyal to and sustained dictatorial regimes thus far with Western backing could have suppressed the uprisings.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Islamic movements became the new devil for the West. Under those circumstances, people of the Islamic faith could not find much space to breathe. Turkey’s and Indonesia’s role as models have come to the fore at this point to show what a country of mostly Muslims can do when it is politically and economically free. Turkey and Indonesia show this very well. Islam is not at all about the Taliban or Al-Qaida. Now, people are struggling for freedom/ democracy and away from autocracy in the Middle East, and this will eventually lead to developments that will certainly change negative perceptions about Islam and the Muslim world.

The Middle East and the Islamic World is at the doorstep of a new era of this fourth wave of democracy. The writers of history have taken note of what has happened in Egypt/Tunisia, where a revolution began closing one era and opening up a new one. This revolution gives us hopes about what is going to happen to the people of the Middle East, and to their future.

Those people have been belittled by the orientalists, the West and Israel while Muslim World as a whole has been totally impotent. What’s happened in Egypt/Tunisia has not yet been fully understood in the world. But it is significant that these events are taking place now and not in 20 or 30 years from now.

I foresee the United States in 20 to 30 years losing totally its hegemonic power in the Middle East and the Muslim World. And Israel would have to make peace with the Palestinians, forcing change for the better in the region. But things have developed much faster than that. Now we observe uprisings in other places. Hopefully, Muammar Gaddafi will have to flee Libya soon. There certainly is the domino effect. It will reach Saudi Arabia most certainly and eventually.

Saudi Arabia is the biggest bastion but there is some panic now. Opposition youths are very angry; and there are also other factors of Shiites’ rights, Saud family hierarchy, and unequal distribution of wealth and origins of radicalism since the eighteenth century. When Saudi Arabia falls too, then we will see a lot more developments.

Democracy will not and does not come easy. Some civil wars are probably likely, like one brewing in Libya. Either Gaddafi will flee the country before more bloodshed, or there will be bloodshed unfortunately but he will have to step down anyway. In either case, his dictatorship is not going to survive. The other dictatorships and their abuses of power will not survive anywhere in the Arab and the Muslim world. We have started to see a domino effect here, and the last bastion in the Middle East will be Saudi Arabia and even beyond because abuses of power are also rampant in rest of the Muslim World (except Turkey and Indonesia ) and everywhere in the world.

Now Israel is in the most difficult position; it lost Egypt after it lost Turkey. Pressures on Israel will begin to mount, and it will have to seek peace with the Palestinians -- which will be certainly a positive development.

What lies ahead is transformation of opposition into a process of democratization with much participation and consensus. This requires an organized society and representative organs with clear future plans and non-contentious ideological positions.

Needless to say this is easier said than done. Some vital decisions will have to be made and a practical action plan has to be designed. The components of this plan are five-fold:

1. Transfer of authority: From the old autocratic power elite to an interim decision-making body. After the downfall of an autocratic regime a power vacuum emerges that may be likened to a “black hole.” People often dread such uncertainties. Hence, an interim government has to be established composed of trusted opinion and community leaders in the shortest possible time. Its major task should be preparing for national elections and devising a new constitution or reshaping the existing one. The interim government has to garner enough legitimacy to satisfy both the people at large and the socioeconomic elements of the society.

2. Making of a new constitution or fixing the existing one: It is certain that any constitution serves its makers; hence, either making a new one or fixing the old one must be based on a consensual process whereby representative actors from all walks of society must participate. An acceptable constitution by the majority is a precondition for a successful transition to popular democracy.

3. Timing of accomplishing the tasks: Determining how long an interim government must serve and in what time frame a new constitution ought to be made is critical to meeting the demands of the people and not exhausting their patience. For this is a matter of legitimacy, and legitimacy works on borrowed time. Experience tells us that people’s expectations remain fresh for a period of 6 to 12 months. Longer period than that leads to a resurgence of frustrations and disappointments.

4. Cleansing the subconscious of society: People often have bitter memories of the past, when they were jailed, tortured and or exiled and their admired ones executed. One way of reconciling with the past is prosecuting the old and corrupt elite and holding them accountable for their and their country’s wasted years and resources. This is a critical decision and the breadth of such a process differs from country to country and the seriousness of the crimes committed by the old rulers and their cronies.

5. Decision making concerning the above: Who will make these decisions? This is not only a procedural but a consensual matter that requires negotiations and heated debates by concerned parties with the understanding that society is a pluralistic entity. Given the seriousness of these questions and the difficult task of transformation, we can only say that the door to democratization is opened, but there is a long road ahead and the roadmap is not yet at hand. It is currently being drawn up.

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