The Age of ‘Rising Democracies’

The Age of ‘Rising Democracies’

The end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty first century witnessed rising hopes for a realization of the ideal of democracy.

The end of the Cold War was assumed to be the end of authoritarianism, with socialism collapsing as the last authoritarian utopia. The end of ideologies and utopias was thought to herald a rising quest for liberties and therefore of a rising quest for democracy, as if non-democratic governances without ideologies never existed and can never exist. 

 Nevertheless, it seems that the challenge of the twenty first century is going to be the rise of various sorts of non-democratic governance, despite of all aspirations for the rise of democracy. The first free elections in countries affected by the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt, resulted in the overwhelming victory of Islamist parties. I am not prejudiced against the idea of the “coexistence of Islam and democracy,” but it is the mild Islamists who are reserved against the idea of the “Western-type democracy” for “good” reasons.

The new Islamist parties in the Arab world are not against elections and majority rule, but do not promise “Western-type democracy.” What is meant by “Western type” is an emphasis on individual rights and full freedom of speech and expression. The Islamist parties only promise “Muslim democracy,” or “democracy which is suited to their culture,” which implicitly means that freedoms will be limited, to be determined by Islamic legislation. 

 The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) advocated such a version of democracy, along with the promise of wellbeing and stability for the people, and won a majority of votes. A combination of the votes for FJP and the votes for the Salafists makes more than seventy percent. This means that an overwhelming majority in Egypt are happy with the promise of good governance and social wellbeing, along with the implementation of Islamic morals. 

 After the Egyptian election, concerning the demonstrations in Tahrir Square against the military, an Egyptian youth is quoted saying that “these men are anti-democratic and just want trouble, how can we march against the army on whom we rely to protect our borders and who are slowly guiding us towards the goals of the revolution” (Jack Shenker reports, The Guardian, Jan. 24). 

 It is the delusion of upper middle class liberals that people inevitably want more freedom and democracy. Evidence suggests that people do not seem to! It’s understandable that well-being and some sort of “good” governance come first and then cultural habits prevail. I do not claim that the Muslim countries are far from realizing the dream of democracy because of religion and culture. I think that it is not only Muslim countries who do not seem eager for democracy and freedoms, but many other countries seem to be drifting away from democracy at the expense of economic improvement, stability, good governance and familiar values. Aside from Putin’s Russia, an EU country, Hungary, is a recent good (or bad?) example, and there are many others. 

Turkey is the most controversial and curious case, since some define it as an “advanced democracy.” Perhaps the definition of democracy is changing in a way that freedoms no more have anything to do with it. In this sense, it is true that this is “the age of rising democracies,” and Turkey is a good model.

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