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A thinker is born

Jan 15,2014 - Last updated at Jan 15,2014

Dictatorship is supposedly the antithesis of democracy. The Arab world is currently stuck in transition between the two systems.

Does the future look promising, or is what we see a mere tectonic movement that, once the dust settles down, reveals no change?

Mohammad Ibrahim Assaf had just published an illuminating book titled “Democracy in Contemporary Arab Thought”. The 500-page book offers an excellent survey of the issue which he takes to task. However, it does not answer the questions I raised in my opening paragraph.

Assaf’s book has four chapters. The issue of democracy and the needed prerequisites of its success are handled in the first chapter. In the second, he goes in depth into the guarantees of democracy and its permanence. In the third he delves with admirable courage into the issue of democracy vis-à-vis secularism and Islamic Shura system and in the last he talks about democratic political space and the mobilisation for democracy.

The book is the fruit of five years of hard work and research. This diligent young man, to whose efforts I was privy, came up with an engineering blueprint for democracy. It helps understand what needs to be done in the Arab world to move to more participatory democratic systems.

From reading the book, I have become better educated in many concepts including democracy, secularism, tolerance, resiliency, meritocracy, freedom, etc. Yet, we need to raise further questions about the potential for the evolvement of democratic governments in the contemporary Arab world.

Dictatorships, whether benevolent or despotic, are now subjected to an acid test in the Arab world.

People accepted them with acquiescence as long as they delivered the basic needs at an affordable cost in fiduciary as well as dignity terms.

When the cost was unbearable, an uprising was eminent.

Is democracy a need that is fulfilled by toppling despot regimes?

The obvious answer is negative.

Evidence from the four successful regime changes in 2011 attests to the fact that this revolutions have not yet led to a democracy. 

The other unsuccessful attempts have either been managed with deftness or else they led to widespread bloodshed, mayhem and destruction.

From all of the recent Arab uprisings, an observer must arrive at the conclusion that democracy is not an accident of history.

In engineering terms, it is a road, a long-distance road. It can be viewed by the naive as a longitudinal surface or by the sane as a complete structure with foundations, body and framework. If it lacks any of the needed ingredients, it will not last.

Assaf demonstrates that democracy is a complete undertaking, a complex structure. It may look like an extended surface, but for the keen observer, what lies beneath surface is the real deal.

The people who pursued Assaf’s endeavour and deserve merit are Slman Bdour and the late brilliant philosopher Sahban Khlaifat.

The book should encourage Assaf to continue writing on the issues he tackled in the book in both English and Arabic.

He might want to tackle questions like: Can democracy work in the Arab world in the absence of a democratic tradition?

Why has democracy succeeded in India and not in the Arab world? Or why has democracy succeeded relatively well in Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey, and will it last?

Democracy will continue to occupy Arab minds and its possibilities in the Arab world will also continue to haunt foreign philosophers and analysts for a long time.

I believe Assaf is a new Jordanian philosophy star to have emerged in the Arab world.

The writer, a former Royal Court chief and deputy prime minister, is president of the Economic and Social Council. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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