Democracy Is Discipline and Self-Restraint
Nelson Mandela, while in prison, on Robben Island, picked out a favorite passage from Shakespeare regarding Julius Caesar’s meditation on bravery and the inevitability of death. The Arab youth who led these uprisings were echoing Julius Caesar’s motto:
“Cowards die many times before their death,/ the valiant never taste of death but once,/ of all the wonders that I yet have heard,/ it seems to me most strange that men should fear,/ seeing that death, a necessary end./ will come when it will come.”
The events in the Arab world since December, 2010 in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and other places, have shown that the Arab people no longer fear or respect their leaders. They are demanding freedom, fairness, and an honest government.
Unless the people who rose against tyranny pursue and agree on the following common principles, values and standards, a just and fair society will not emerge. These standards, values and principles are: 1) security of thought and speech and freedom for the people to express their ideas and thoughts; 2) freedom for painters, photographers, and other artists to create as they wish; 3) freedom for scientists and engineers to research and invent; 4) freedom to worship, which recognizes and affirms the variety of creeds and sects; 5) freedom from oppression; 6) freedom from arbitrary arrest; 7) freedom from secret police and their brutality; 8) freedom to express their opinions and criticisms of their own government; and 9) last but not least, freedom and equality of opportunity for women. These principles have to be adopted gradually, through institution-building and cannot be imposed or enacted instantaneously. First, they start with a good educational system that teaches reason, science, and tolerance.
Unless the new order in the Arab world meets on these common standards and principles, the Arab world will not have peace, stability, prosperity, and progress. As A.J.P. Taylor the most famous British historian of the twentieth century declared, “Without intellectual freedom, without tolerance, without love, no society can advance.” It is the duty of Arab writers and intellectuals to preach tolerance and not teach hate, as we constantly see in the Arab media. At a time when everybody is lying in the Arab world, journalists, teachers, government officials, business people, the Arab world needs a media (print and television), that would hold truth as its highest value and knowledge as its first responsibility.
The new Arab order, which clamors for popular government and liberty, must realize that popular government is not about what you want, or about your demands of others, but about not demanding of others to do what you do not want done to yourself. Popular government, freedom and liberty, mean “refusing to lay upon the backs of others the burdens we do not wish laid on our own.” Liberty and freedom is not about the liberty to do what you please without restraint to people in your society whom you deem unequal, because of their creed, sect, and ethnic background. True democracy “takes up the sword” against any faction or a group that wants to exploit another without any restraint at all. In sum, democracy is a discipline and self-restraint. It is about majority rule that will not infringe on the rights of those who lost political power and their followers. Democracy is about rule of law and that no one is above the law. Rule of law means people are governed by laws that are enacted by their elected representatives (Parliaments) and when their elected representatives exceed their authority under the Constitution or if the laws are misused, there is a strong independent judiciary that will repeal the Constitutional violation. Finally, rule of law is also about enforcement.
Finally, democracy also requires a transparent capitalism. The Arab world has crony capitalism that has produced a greedy kleptocracy and lords of corruption, which benefits the few who are close to the people who have a monopoly on political and economic power. Democracy means economic and political competition that is based on fairness. In short, democracy is not just about free election, but also about treating all groups in society, regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds, as coequals. Democracy is a system that permits each citizen to feel “fully included and equally respected”. This is the essence of a democratic, just, and fair state. AsS Ian Brzezinski correctly pointed out, "Democracy is also a culture of compromise." ;
Dr. Odeh Aburdene is President of OAI Advisors and is a member of the Atlantic Council Board of Directors. An earlier version of this essay appeared in the Arab monthly Ad-Diplomacy,which is published in London.