The issue of democracy in the Middle East has three distinct areas of opinion: the opinion of policymakers, influencers and political leaders both in the nations dealing with this struggle, and in nations who may have some economic, political, or philosophical stake; the opinion of the citizenry itself; and the opinion of academics and journalists who devote their careers to the issue. Over the course of this blog we have studied each of these opinions in turn, noting the particular areas of bias that we must take into consideration when evaluating the response. We look back, then, to the talks by Amaney Jamal, one academic who is leading the way in using public opinion, as well as the political theory, region history, and the current political process in formulating her ideas which she shares with the world through her teaching, books, and public talks. These ideas are not solely of academic value as they contain recommendations for practical application that may improve both the public opinion and policy of democracy in the Middle East.
In the talk Jamal gave to the BCIU Education Centre, she focuses on the Arab region, with particular focus on Egypt, as she explores the historical implications and connotations democracy holds in the Arab world, and the reason the concept continues to be so controversial. But she also focuses on the groups serving either as advocates or opposers of democracy, as well as the particular areas that democracy is struggling, such as women’s rights or free elections. She notes, for example, that despite the unfavorable view towards gender equality espoused by many Islamist political leaders, women continue to be one of the largest supporters of an Islamist government – not because they agree with inequality, but because they feel more strongly about eliminating corruption and inefficiency from the government. Adding to this, she mentions how the youth movement in many Arab countries, despite being overwhelming pro-democracy in theory, may still tend to lean towards a stricter, sharia-based legal system and Islamist political structure, for the very same reasons. This tendency is supported by polls throughout the Arab world, as these articles on Pakistani voters under the age of 30 attest.
The problem, then, seems to be not in democracy itself, but in the concerns and values that the average voter weighs when deciding their nations’ political future. The Western world, not experiencing the average Arab citizens daily struggles, may seem to think the issue is a simple matter of choosing between democracy or authoritarian rule, and then wonder why an argument even exists. But the issue, like most, is far more complicated than that. For a democratic party to garner real support from the populace, they must show that they have the capability to govern efficiently and equitably, with acknowledgment of the strong role that Islam plays in the daily life of their voters. A more likely solution, as Jamal continues to discuss in her talks, is an incorporation of democracy into Islamist political groups that already hold popular support, ensuring that gaining power does not necessarily mean morphing into the kind of totalitarian regime the Arab populace has already lived through.