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Heba Batainah
University of Canberra
Stream: International and Comparative Politics
Refereed: Yes
Democracy in the Arab world: Fact or fiction?
It has been acknowledged that the persistent involvement of Western nations in
Middle-Eastern affairs has not left the political landscape unblemished. Both the
political leaders and the people of Arab nations, as a result of first being colonised by
Western powers and later aided to ‘stability’ by these same powers, have grown
disillusioned with Western ideologies. This paper argues that the insurgence of
‘fundamentalist’ Islamic leaders, both legitimate and spiritual, has not been accidental
but has been a consequence of this disillusionment. Because of the history of the
region coupled with its pronounced Islamic heritage, the case as to why democracy
has failed to take root in the Middle-East has less to do with Islam as a religion and
more to do with the culture in Arab countries. In seeking to understand the reasons
why some models of democracy are flourishing in some countries and not in others
this paper argues that first and foremost democracy is not a static ideal and that there
are numerous models of democracy that may be implemented. Secondly, democracy
cannot be established with ‘diligence and aid’ from Western powers; rather
democracy is a ‘Culture’ that emerges from within the populace and thus cannot be
superimposed on a country or culture. The question thus is not whether Islam is
conducive to democracy but whether there is a common culture in the Arab world and
whether this common culture is conducive to a democratic culture.