Democracy and the Muslim world

The United Nations, democratic countries as well as the organisations and enthusiasts of democracy around the world have been celebrating September 15 as the Democracy Day. It is espoused to illumine and promote awareness about democracy and monitor its quality, state, practice and prospectus in various countries around the planet. The concept and prototype revolves around Athenian models of democracy, which originated in fifth century BCE and survived for only two centuries. Yet, its prescient progenitor, Cleisthenes who first introduced it as a reformed system of governance by the people, is still honoured as the Father of Democracy in the entire democratic world. This system, however was quite different; it necessitated the participation of all adults and even marked the non-participants with conspicuous paints to emphasise their failure. But even then, this precursor is taken as a great Greek legacy and contribution to the modern world.
The system in its various emerging forms, has now spread to more than 110 countries comprising the most advanced industrial, scientific, business human rights, welfare and future oriented western nations. Even China, with the largest human population and the second most industrialised and richest state on the planet also claims to be a democracy of the working-class cadres. However, based on the stipulated ideals of its iconic standards, quality and practice, 23 countries were ranked to be fully democratic in 2021 while 52 had somewhat flawed formats and 35 were operating a hybrid system. The system being an apotheosis of peoples’ will, rights, power and the process to elect, install and replace their rulers through a smooth and peaceful process. Yet despite such ideals, the attributes and prolific effects of democracy have also exhibited a rather paradoxical aspect of being far less popular, pervasive or pursued in the Muslim countries as in most other parts of the world
The fact becomes even more intriguing because democracy reincarnates and helps to accomplish many percepts and ideals that have been so passionately adored and flaunted by Muslims. For instance, it is merely an evolved or extended form of the traditional Bayet system or the bonds of allegiance by the leaders or potentates of various tribes and regions. It stipulates a specific duration of the ruler to hold office as well as a process for accountability of the incumbent. The freedom of religion, speech, assembly, association, acquisition of property rights, to seek justice from unwarranted action or persecution and sanctity of life as enshrined in Islam, are also ensured by democracy. Looking in retrospect, one may also feel that if Muslims had embraced the essentials of democracy at some earlier stages, there would certainly have been far less carnage and bloodshed in the Muslim History.
Despite such stunningly similar ideals, democracy has not merely eluded the Muslims but even got repeatedly derailed, discarded or suspended in the countries that ventured to embrace it. Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, for instance, inherited it from their British rulers who initiated and operated it in the last phase of their occupation. But unlike India, known for its continuous and robust democratic system, Pakistan has endured four coups and occupations by the army dictators, each lasting over a decade. The process in Bangladesh brought even more dreadful deaths of its Premier plus his family members. Turkey became the prime Muslim state to embrace it, granted suffrage to women even before many western nations. Yet its stretch of about a century, is also stained by four coups by the army juntas and the execution of one of its most eminent Premiers plus two of his cabinet colleagues. Even more tragic and traumatic, have been the trails of struggle, sacrifices and setbacks in the movement for democracy, known as the Arab Spring, that surged in some Arab countries like Tunis, Egypt and Libya. Far more pathetic has been its plight in Sudan where it was snuffed barely two years after its independence in 1956. A powerful popular movement in 2019, forced the dictator generals to retreat after their ravages of about sixty years. Yet last October, they contrived to regain their control.
The scholars and researchers around the world, have endeavoured to analyse the reasons and factors for the failure, flubs, lack of growth and sturdier roots of democracy in the Muslim heartlands. They have parsed it in the context of poverty, lack of education, caste concepts, tribal and communal taboos, traditions, feuds and rivalries. Democracy, however, in contrast, has also proved to be an effective salve against these factors. An aversion against democracy, in some regions also emerged with the windfall of oil wealth, has also helped to congeal more power and monopolistic controls. Inefficiency, corruption, inequalities enhanced by lack of accountability, encountered at the embryonic stages of democracy, in some countries also stir disillusionment against this system. Some terrorist groups have further imperiled the democratic systems by drowning the diversity, inclusion and pluralism that are the core foundations of any democratic system.

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