Monday, August 8, 2011

An Arab Vision For The Spanish Democracy

By Mohammad el-Ashab

In Spain too, there is a wave of protest taking place. The angry social uprisings across the Arab world have succeeded in encouraging others to follow suit, something that partially exonerates the Arabs from being entirely consumerists, as they are at last producing something useful for human intellect. Was Ibn Khaldun not the inventor of sociological sciences, in the end?

In truth, the difference when it comes to the protests in Madrid – the result of the economic and financial crisis still prevailing in many European countries, from Greece to Portugal – is that no side has dared to confront the demands of the Street by firing bullets and killing innocent people. Human life is an untouchable red line, and nothing, in the system of universal ethics, is dearer than the right to life, freedom and dignity.

For the Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, the crisis cannot transpire without a hefty price to be paid by his government. So perhaps, through his decision to hold early elections, he is seeking to curb the repercussions of a possible defeat for his party, preferably coming through angry ballots rather than riots on the streets. In the end, the tradition is to maintain the democratic aspect in bringing this or that party to power.

Such behavior reflects the pervasiveness of democratic values among Western elites, traditions that seek to turn to and abide by the will of the voters at every juncture. Though these elites see the protests and demands in the street as a sign that their decisions are not proceeding in the right direction, they did not order the army to leave its barracks and launch a war against the unarmed civilians, as certain Arab leaders did. Instead, they reconsider the reasons and the policies that led to this impasse in the first place.

And because suggestions are not only made by those who are in power, the opposition is seizing such opportunities in order to fight the elections armed with programs, commitments and pledges, all in the context of a moral and political contract where everyone accepts both victory and defeat.

This is exactly the difference between a democracy that opens its doors wide to everyone, and the democracy that is merely an act of charity by the rulers, bestowed by them when beleaguered by crises, a democracy that is ultimately devoid of essence, save the prolongation of the ruler’s tyranny. Further, the fate of democratic rulers is to end up writing their memoirs, lecturing in universities and colleges, or carrying out humanitarian roles. But this is not the same fate feared by undemocratic leaders, who instead end up behind bars, with the disintegration of their clout and that of their families, while those close to them flee as if from a deadly contagion.

Ultimately, only the value assigned to each human being reflects the differences in dealing with him and his problems and aspirations. In democratic countries, a human being is a free voter who is proud of the tax statements in his pocket, and of having carrying out his duties, which are translated by the state into rights and benefits. However, in undemocratic countries, he is a mere number that can be brought down by bullets or thrown in secret prisons away from any law.

In the context of the right to peaceful demonstration, a government must listen to the quality and the nature of the demands. There is no shame if the ruler decides that some of these must be gradual and need time and resources. Things that are not entirely achieved are not necessarily abandoned.

The certain thing is that the demands for freedom, dignity, justice, and equal opportunities, are not a burden, but rather a helpful element in terms of removing barriers and opening eyes to certain absent realities. Facing those demands with violence and the logic of eradication only implies that someone is going too far in confronting an otherwise sweeping current.

Up until a short while ago, some Arab politicians criticized the so-called change coming from abroad. The advocates of cultural distinctiveness went on to say that Western-style democracy is not something that can be peddled in any place and any time. However, things seem different today as the Arab Street is the one calling for democracy, freedom, and change this time. It is thus no longer acceptable to invoke any excuses in order to maintain the problematic status quo, without any initiatives for fundamental reform.

For good reasons, the Spanish model – which seems to have replaced bullfighting with protests in Madrid – is nothing to be afraid of. Dealing with it in a democratic approach may eventually lead to overthrowing Prime Minister Jose Zapatero. However, overthrowing the cabinet is not the end. It is a mere round in the political competitions between the major players on the Spanish arena. This is mainly because the Spanish people had severed their links with Franco’s dictatorship many decades ago. Meanwhile, some Arab rulers want to bring back a history that has long expired, and that cannot possibly be brought back, except on the ruins of the unjust laws.

This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 07/08/2011

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