Looking at the recent Egyptian Presidential Election results it is clear that the outcome of the 'Arab Spring' is demonstrating a profound shift in how we should view the old debate over the issue of Islam and Democracy.
by Dr Hassan Saeed
If we take just five countries Egypt (population 81 million), Indonesia (239 million) Pakistan (174 million), Bangladesh (148 million), Turkey (73 million), we see nearly three-quarters of a billion people on the Earth living in countries that would call themselves democracies and the vast majority of whose population celebrate the Muslim faith. The Maldives along with an increasing number of other smaller countries are also now in this position too.
As a result, the myth that Islam and democracy are incompatible should be discarded for good. Now we should talk less about the 'transition to democracy' and start talking more about the daily trials and tribulations of democracy. In other words we should see our Islamic faith and our democracy as a mainstream part of our lives. In doing this we demonstrate to the whole world that the extremists and terrorists who claim to act on their faith, without any popular mandate from the population they claim to represent, to be a tiny minority mainly hiding out in small failed states.
Stalwarts of democracies around the world have an obligation to ensure that the emerging Muslim democracies succeed. They should use every possible means to build and strengthen institutions, invest heavily in voter education and development of civil society. These are key to any successful transformation to a democracy. Only then the East and West can start speaking a common language – i.e. the language of democracy.
International community should avoid the mistakes they committed in the Maldives. Here they thought democracy was a one of event - election only. They did not scrutinize elected leaders sufficiently. Nor did they focus adequately on institution building.
The democratic journey is a tough one. None of the countries I mention above is likely to be perfect, but all strive to develop their democracy. And it is the same with us in the Maldives. The specific events of February 7th are portrayed by former President Nasheed and his activists as some sort of reverse or defeat for democracy. In fact it is the mistakes in the three years leading up to his resignation that are the problem. They need to be scrutinised, analysed and understood so that they can be avoided in the future and we can continue to build a democratic country.
Our elections in 2013 provide the opportunity for all to state their case. Instead of disrupting our democracy with demonstrations and violence, Nasheed and the MDP should use their freedom under our constitution and rule of law to seek to explain to a skeptical Maldivian public in the coming months why they should be elected again.
The other important issue for those who share the Muslim faith is not just democracy, but also the economic rise of countries such as Indonesia and Turkey. I find that people in the west talk a lot about the rise of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, but perhaps see too little of the development of the next group of large countries where Islam and Democracy is now commonplace.
Instead of being defensive, perhaps we should instead be pointing out that unlike some of the BRIC countries, the next group of large countries transitioning to global 'middle-income' status are proud of their effective combination of their faith and traditions along with democracy.
Note: Dr Hassan Saeed is currently the Special Advisor to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik