Democracy and the Muslim World - an Unsolvable Contradiction?

Posted in Broader Middle East | 22-Oct-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

The US and the EU started the initiative to bring stability and democracy to the “Broader Middle East” and the Mediterranean region. Feedback from the region’s governments and the public has been less than enthusiastic. “Public diplomacy” could not sell the message. The perception seemed to be that foreign powers wanted to impose democracy from the outside. Some governments feel that democracy endangers their power.

The Broader Middle East; From Marrakech to Bangladesh

The successful democratization of Germany and Japan after WWII cannot be taken as a blueprint for the Muslim world. The preconditions are very different. Democracy demands a totally different perception of the individual human being.

The Muslim world lacks a very decisive phase in history: The Enlightenment Without a kind of enlightenment, there is no way to democracy as the desired end state. In a democracy, individuals are well protected against the state. The protection of an individual's human rights ranks higher than those of the collective- especially those of women. This demands a very different mindset in many Muslim countries. It is essential that education playa a vital role in bettering the position of women in society.

It would be wrong, though, to put all Muslim countries in one basket. We have to carefully differentiate and to support countries in their own attempt to reach democracy. The successful elections in Indonesia and recently in Afghanistan give reason for some hope.

What should we do to avoid new distrust of the dominant Western world? We will fail if a Western style of democratization was perceived – like globalization – to expand global power. Security, stability and better education must create an environment in which democracy can develop. We need take a deep breath.

Manuela Paraipan, our “correspondent Broader Middle East”, tries to find some answers to questions that might decide the future of this very important region.