DEBATING DEMOCRACY IN THE ARAB WORLD

Ibtisam Ibrahim

What is Democracy?
Western scholars define democracy a method for protecting individuals’ civil and political rights. It provides for freedom of speech, press, faith, opinion, ownership, and assembly, as well as the right to vote, nominate and seek public office. Huntington (1984) argues that a political system is democratic to the extent that its most powerful collective decision makers are selected through
periodic elections in which candidates freely compete for votes and in which virtually all adults are eligible to vote. Rothstein (1995) states that democracy is a form of government and a process of governance that changes and adapts in response to circumstances. He also adds that the Western definition of democracy — in addition to accountability, competition, some degree of participation — contains a guarantee of important civil and political rights. Anderson (1995) argues that the term democracy means a system in which the most powerful collective decision makers are selected through periodic elections in which candidates freely compete for votes and in which virtually all the adult population is eligible to vote. Saad Eddin Ibrahim (1995), an Egyptian scholar, sees democracy that might apply to the Arab world as a set of rules and institutions designed to enable governance through the peaceful
management of competing groups and/or conflicting interests. However, Samir Amin (1991) based his definition of democracy on the social Marxist perspective. He divides democracy into two categories: bourgeois democracy which is based on individual rights and freedom for the individual, but without having social equality; and political democracy which entitles all people in society the right to vote and to elect their government and institutional representatives which will help to obtain their equal social rights.
To conclude this section, I would say that there is no one single definition of democracy that indicates precisely what it is or what is not. However, as we noticed, most of the definitions mentioned above have essential similar elements – accountability, competition, and some degree of participation – which have become dominant in the Western world and internationally.

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Filed Under: AlgeriaArticlesEgyptFeaturedMuslim BrotherhoodUnited States & Europe

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