By; Professor Dr. Abdelrazak Ali
The outcome of discussion about democracy with my students

د. عبد الرزاق علي في الثلاثاء ٠٢ - أغسطس - ٢٠١٦ ١٢:٠٠ صباحاً

The outcome of discussion about democracy with my students
By; Professor Dr. Abdelrazak Ali
Background, Honestly, the discussions with Students are delightful  and substantially valuable although created many troubles for me, because; Al-Azhar University is basically a religious institution, and ideologically dominated by the Salafist and Muslim Brotherhood, that are essentially originated from  the  Fanatic  Wahabi Sunni Doctrine. Most of the Al-Azhar leaders or Sheiks are characterized by;  Being closed-minded, Intolerance to the other and readily defaming  blasphemy of the opposite opinion. Secularism is the least stigmatizing insult you can get, particularly if they behave friendly towards you. Yet, Alazhar University is still keeping a separation between male and female Students. Generally, the religiously addressed factions have a common paradigm, that is" Fanatic,Intolerance to the other religion or doctrine, lack of liberality and the closed-minded, rigid stance". Let us do formulate the outcome of the discussion with my students put into questions and answers;  
 Will Islam impel or impede democracy in Egypt?
 -There is probably no question whose answer is less clear and more hotly debated than this one in the context of Egypt’s current transition. First, we should differentiate between Salafist,Wahabis, Muslim Brotherhood or any other religious faction  as an organized entity and Islam as a holy religion. No one whatever he or she or even any organized entity could exclusively be considered the representative of  Islam and allegedly speaking in the name of God. Consequently, the Muslim Brotherhood or any other Islamist groups have no the right to monopolize the Islamic religion and seize Islamic principles according to their own rigid explanation. 
Is Islam compatible with democracy?
In short, It can be. Millions of the Muslims live in democracies, ample proof that there is no inherent discord between the two ideas. But Islam, like almost all religious traditions, can be interpreted in different ways, and some interpretations--such as those favored by al Qaeda and radical Islamists (Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood etc.)conflict with democratic ideals. The validity of the different interpretations is a complex question debated by religious scholars.
Even if Muslim Brotherhood(MB) or any other religious faction support democracy in Egypt, will they also support full religious freedom for Coptic Christians, who are 10% of the population, as well as Islamic dissenters?
- I think they will not support full religious freedom for Coptic Christians or any other faction.This is clearly expected from their documented rhetoric, statement or their structural configuration of leadership board.
Is Islam the reason many Muslim countries are not democratic?
--No,  but the  mix of historical, cultural, economic, and political factors (and not Islam as a religion) can explain why democracy has failed to take root in many Muslim countries, especially in the Arab world.
Which Muslim nations are considered democracies?
--We can cite Turkey, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mali, and Senegal as democracies. Other countries, such as Malaysia, Nigeria, and Iran, are nominally democratic but lack many of the attributes of fully functioning democracies, such as protections for civil liberties and legitimate opposition parties. Most of the world's 47 Muslim-majority nations conduct elections; some are relatively free and fair, some are not. In any case, elections alone do not make a country a democracy. 
Egypt had a distinguished situation, that is being belonged to ancient civilization and the characteristic of its past historical time. Furthermore, Egypt had a previous experience with democracy in the pre-revolution era before 1952, in which time the religious orientation was Sofi and not yet affected by the Wahabis ideology, that penetrated Egyptian People after the military Officers came to power. One of the most common theorems in political science holds that countries with prior democratic experience are more likely to become democratic than countries without such experience. In contrast to the idea of regional contagion, which stresses the role of simultaneous developments in neighboring countries, this hypothesis focuses on the role of historical experience within individual countries.
Which countries in the Arab world are democratic?
--The Arab world, is a democracy-free zone. Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia are the least democratic nations in the Arab world, according to a study by Daniel Brumberg of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Other Arab nations fall somewhere between autocracy and democracy: they may have legislatures, labor unions, and political parties, but their ruling party, president, or king exercises final control, these countries are: Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain, Algeria,  and Yemen. Lebanon was a fully functioning democracy in the early 1970's, but years of civil war and conflict have transformed it into a more repressive nation.
What are the main reasons so few Muslim nations are democratic?
There are many reasons; In the Arab world, for example; Tribalism and patriarchal social systems, Political manipulation of the Arab-Israeli conflict,  repression by monarchies and military governments; the lack of independent secular political parties; traditional mindsets that consider Western-style democracy a foreign, non-Islamic invention;  oil has been a factor, slowing the development of market economies and the political freedoms that can accompany them. and a long-standing policy of U.S. and Western support for many autocrats in the Arab world.
What are the religious ideas within Islam that could favor democracy?
The Quran, the holy book of Islam, contains a number of ideas that some Islamic scholars say support democratic ideals. One is the shura or consultative decision making. Freedom, in the Quran, is highly recommended that culminated in  the freedom of belief and the freedom to change from religion to another without penalties  ,However,  Most Muslim scholars disagree about whether these terms have political applications. Is shura obligatory or merely desirable? Binding or non-binding?  The disagreement of most Muslim scholars rest on their opinion that originally derived from the Hadith " these are the talks  that created three hundred years after the death of the prophet Mohamed and claimed to be affiliated with him, so should be obeyed. Generally, the contents of the Hadith oppose freedom and democracy, definitely, the Hadith is not considered the authentic basis of Islam, so not trusted to obey.  Another powerful argument for democracy emerges from the principles in the constitution of Medina, which was written by the prophet Mohammed in 622 A.D, according to Muqtedar Khan, the director of international studies at Adrian College in Michigan. The document sets down the rules of the community of Medina, as agreed to by Muslims and Jews of the city--and grants equal rights to Jews and Muslims who follow its laws.
Is the desire for democracy gaining ground?
--It appears so, but at the same time support for organized Islamist parties with inherently anti-democratic views is also strong. The complexity of the political situation in the Muslim world is reflected in the recent survey, which found both that majorities in the nine predominately Muslim nations surveyed believe that democracy can work in their countries--and that Osama bin Laden is one of their three "most trusted" world leaders. Respondents also favored a prominent role for Islam and religious leaders in national politics, but majorities in most countries also said they valued ideals associated with democracy, such as freedom of the press. This contradiction between statements and ideas of the respondents revealed distortion of the image of both democracy and Islam in the consciousness of people.
But, why does democracy seemingly succeed in few Islamic countries, in comparison to others?
--The most common cause is the religious background of the country. For instance, Countries in which the Sofi Ideology is dominant( e.g  Turkey, Malaysia,Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Senegal), democracy can take access, because the Sofi belief is neither fanatic nor intolerant to the other. On the contrary,  countries in which, Sunnis belief is dominant( e.g  Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Syria, Palestine,Lybia, etc.) or Shiite is dominant(e.g  Iran, Iraq,etc.), access to  democracy is blocked, as both the Sunnis and the Shiite are fanatic and intolerant to the other.
Can successful Eastern European democracies serve as a model for other countries and regions? 
-Three critical conditions of Eastern Europe’s success are/ previous democratic episodes and historically close relations to Western Europe, relatively high levels of economic and social development, and the support and conditionality framework extended by the European Union. These conditions can hardly be replicated in other contexts. Thus, the experiences of successful post-communist transitions may not be directly transferable and can only provide a limited base for policy making. With the decline of Soviet influence and the rise of citizen movements such as Poland’s Solidarity, the dynamic in Eastern Europe shifted dramatically, the façade of communist hegemony collapsed overnight, and the countries of the region began the transition with which we are now so familiar.  What is important to note is that the combination of weak pre-war institutions and the civic and economic desolation wrought by communism left very few institutions, formal or informal, on which reform could be based
First, The countries with the most advanced and successful economic transformations have at the same time the most secure and effective democratic systems, as well as greater freedom and liberties. Thus, what brightens up from the post-communist experience in Eastern Europe is that simultaneous transitions can only be successful when democracy is stronger, powerless concentrated, electoral cycles shorter, government turnover more frequent, and the media free from the government control.
Second, All successful countries had earlier histories of political conflicts, liberalization attempts, economic reforms and experiments, and oppositional activities. Such developments under state socialism produced more pragmatic communist elites and stronger cultural and political counter-elites.
Third, Above all, no obvious or hidden structural religious basis was embedded into the democratic process as in most Islamic countries and Latin America.
What about democracy in Latin America?
Peter Smith demonstrated that instability did not promote political democracy throughout the region, but did not impede it either. After all, democratization means change; change encounters resistance; the ensuing conflict provokes uncertainty and instability. There is an idea that Latin American culture is inherently undemocratic or even anti-democratic. Undemocratic cultural traits have variously been attributed to climatic conditions (since democracy can’t flourish in the tropics), racial and ethnic legacies (especially among indigenous civilizations), the passions of Latin temperaments (which impede rational discourse), and, of course, the nefarious influence of the Roman Catholic Church (which peddles ignorance and superstition). If these pathologies were correct, there should never have been sustained experiments in political democracy anywhere in Latin America at any time[1]. And as Paul W. Drake has observed, “the authoritarian forces learned from each toppling domino that a transition to an elected government did not necessarily usher in communism,populism, economic disaster, social chaos, the destruction of the military, or the reduction of national security. For many despots, the risks and costs of authoritarianism soon surpassed those of democratization.” [2]
In its most optimistic form, the hypothesis stipulates that countries should be able to achieve stable democracy on the basis of one previous democratic experience. Countries with repeated prior experiences are clearly having difficulty with democracy. Countries with no prior experience will not have had the opportunity to absorb important lessons. Yet another possibility is that countries were subject to common influences and causal factors. These forces were more likely to be external than internal, in view of the broad diversity in the domestic composition of Latin American societies. They could be intellectual or ideological, including the rise (and demise) of Marxist theory and a growing conviction that electoral democracy was more promising than violent revolution. 
[1] Center for Latin American Studies University of California, Berkeley Cycles of Electoral Democracy in Latin America, 1900-2000 Peter Smith
[2]  Paul W. Drake, “The International Causes of Democratization, 1974-1990,” in Paul W. Drake and Mathew D. McCubbins, eds., The Origins of Liberty: Political and Economic Liberalization in the Modern World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 85-86. 
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