Muslim North Africa

May 25, 2009

[First published July 28, 2005] Not all Muslims are terrorists. Dictators do not rule not all Muslims in these nations. Some live in democracies, although one wouldn’t know it from the commentators who exclaim that the Muslim religion is inconsistent with democracy. Although this often appears a sally against the Bush foreign policy in the Middle East, I think many of them believe it. It is helpful, therefore, to look at the status of Muslim nations in what is considered the hard-core, anti-democratic region, of North Africa, including the Horn of Africa. The map below shows the region to which I’m referring.

Now, lets look at these nations in detail. Below are two statistical tables on them, with their freedom status added. All those labeled free are liberal democracies, and those partly free with an asterisk are electoral democracies. As you can see, there are four liberal democracies out of 25 Muslim nations, and eight democracies when the electoral democracies are counted. This is far below the global proportion 44 percent liberal democracies and of 61 percent democratic.

So, for Africa it is clear that the Muslim religious culture appears as a hindrance to democracy. But, this is misleading. For the implication is that Muslims then oppose democracy, which is not true. I went into this on my Freedomist Blog (link here). Muslims place a higher value on democracy than do some people of the democracies. See the chart below

As I concluded my Freedomist Blog, what most clearly distinguishes democracy from nondemocracies is that in nondemocracies people live in fear. We see this in the Arab and North African Muslim countries. Therefore, if the democratization the Muslims value is to come, it must come from pressure from the outside. In this, the Forward Strategy of Freedom of President Bush is well aligned with our understanding of Muslim nations, and it is working.

Link of Note

“Talk By Radwan Masmoudi: “Islam & Democracy:  Between The Past, The Present & The Future”

Dr. Radwan Masmoudi is the Executive Director of Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. He says:

The old methods of oppression are simply outdated.  More than 50% of the population of Muslim countries is under 30 years old.  They did not witness colonization, and do not care about the independence struggle.  They are highly educated, they speak several languages, and they watch CNN and al-Jazeera.  Many of them even have access to the internet.  They see how other people live, in terms of prosperity and freedom, and they want the same.  They watch other peoples vote and elect their new leaders, while they are stuck with the same rulers for what seems like eternity.  The new generation is fed up with the status quo.  Change is inevitable.  The only question that remains is: What kind of change?

Our answers should be direct and unambiguous: democratize and we will help you in the process and afterwards.
Universal Archive

Arab Freedom Ahoy

May 4, 2009

[First published January 4, 2006] There are many commentators and analysts who assert that Arabs are not interested in democratic freedom, or that the Arab culture is hostile to it. It is important, therefore, to publicize the Arab Human Development Report 2004: Towards Freedom in the Arab World published by the United Nations Development Programme, Arab Fund For Economic And Social Development (link here). It begins with the theme of the whole report:

Of all the impediments to an Arab renaissance, political restrictions on human development are the most stubborn. This Report therefore focuses on the acute deficit of freedom and good governance.

Given its source and funding, the report is surprisingly honest:

No Arab thinker today doubts that freedom is a vital and necessary condition, though not the only one, for a new Arab renaissance, or that the Arab world’s capacity to face up to its internal and external challenges, depends on ending tyranny and securing fundamental rights and freedoms.

Ah, you might think, it must mean something different by freedom than we do in the West. No way. By freedom the report means not only civil and political rights, the rule of law, and an independent judiciary, and therefore, as it says, “freedom from oppression,” but also “the liberation of the individual from all factors that are inconsistent with human dignity, such as hunger, disease, ignorance, and poverty.” These, the report points out, rest upon popular participation, government transparency, accountability, and fair and free selection processes. In other words, democracy as we know it.

Keep in mind this is an Arab report as it also asserts what we all know:

Some Arab governments also violate the right to life extra-legally and extra-judicially. Human rights organizations have observed that official reports on killings tend to be short on facts. In most Arab states, the names of the victims are not mentioned, and no public investigation is conducted.

Extremist groups which perpetrate assassinations and bombings and espouse the use of violence also violate the right to life. Armed confrontations between security forces and armed groups result in civilian casualties that can outnumber victims in the ranks of the combatants.

And more surprising, it also frankly deals with the way Arab men treat their women:

In general, women suffer from inequality with men and are vulnerable to discrimination, both at law and in practice.

Despite laudable efforts to promote the status of women, success remains limited. Greater progress is required in women’s political participation, in changes to personal status laws, in the integration of women in development, and in the right of a woman married to a foreign husband to transmit her citizenship to her children. The inability of existing legislation to protect women from domestic violence or violence on the part of the state and society is another deficit area.

And now for the most important observation of this report — the claim the Arab and Muslim “mind” makes them incapable of democracy. Says the report:

[A] recent research effort, the World Values Survey (WVS), has exposed the falseness of these claims by demonstrating that there is a rational and understandable thirst among Arabs to be rid of despots and to enjoy democratic governance. Among the nine regions surveyed by the WVS, which included the advanced Western countries, Arab countries topped the list of those agreeing that “democracy is better that any other form of governance.” A substantially high percentage also rejected authoritarian rule (defined as a strong ruler who disregards parliament or elections).

Why have Arab countries failed to meet their people’s desire for freedom and democracy?
Undoubtedly, the real flaw behind the failure

of democracy in several Arab countries is not cultural in origin. It lies in the convergence of political, social and economic structures that have suppressed or eliminated organized social and political actors capable of turning the crisis of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes to their advantage. The elimination of such forces has sapped the democratic movement of any real forward momentum. In addition, there are region- specific complexities that have deepened the crisis.

In other words, dictatorships are at fault. There is much to gladden the freedomist in this report. Even if it is projecting on the Arab world a bias toward freedom, this report still contains enough undoubted detail and facts, like the above WVS survey, to question the view that democracy is incompatible with Arab culture, and that President Bush’s Forward Strategy of Freedom for the region is grossly unrealistic.

Link of Note

“The unmentionable Freedom” (5/28/05) By Joseph Loconte, The Heritage Foundation

Joseph Loconte is a research fellow in religion at the Heritage Foundation. He says:

Last month a group of Arab intellectuals released their third report in an unprecedented study of the many failures–economic, social, and political–that plague the world’s Arab states. The latest report, “Towards Freedom in the Arab World,” endorses democracy and laments the “acute deficit of freedom and good governance” in Muslim countries. Its authors are getting high marks from the Bush administration. Too bad they’ve largely ignored the most basic freedom under any democratic government: the guarantee of religious liberty.

Although understandable, given his interest in religion, I think he overdoes his criticism of the report for not explicitly favoring religious freedom. But this is implicit in the report’s general treatment of freedom, and then there are these snippets:

The dominant trend in Islamic jurisprudence supports freedom. Enlightened Islamic interpretations find that the tools of democracy – when used properly – offer one possible practical arrangement for applying the principle of consultation (al-shura). The fundamental principles in Islam which dictate good governance, include the realization of justice and equality, the assurance of public freedoms, the right of the nation to appoint and dismiss rulers, and guarantees of all public and private rights for non-Muslims and Muslims alike. Notwithstanding these key theological and philosophical interpretations, political forces, in power and in opposition, have selectively appropriated Islam to support and perpetuate their oppressive rule.
. . . .
In contemporary jurisprudence, human rights constitute the collection of rights incorporated in international agreements and treaties that guarantee all people, irrespective of their nationality, ethnicity, language, sex, religion, ideology and abilities, the fundamental rights to which they are entitled by virtue of being human. However, in Arab countries the issue of ‘specificity’ is frequently raised to weaken international human rights law.
. . . .
The confusion between religion and state is nowhere more clearly demonstrated than in the Sudanese Constitution, which provides that God, the Creator of humankind, holds supremacy over the State, without specifying the meaning of supremacy. Governance practices apparently sanctioned by God are likely to be immune to criticism and opposition.
Books, articles, and data

Muslim Arabs Favor Democracy

May 2, 2009

click me^–>

On the right is my graphite stick painting, I call “Hero”, of one of the most memorable photos from the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, China. The blog below is a repost of my July 24, 2005, post on my non-functioning Freedomist blog.

For those interested in freedom and systematically collected statistics on it, there are a few essential websites to know about. Among them are Freedom House and its rating of countries by their freedom and various reports on democracy; and another is the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal “Index of Economic Freedom”. Another site, apparently not well known outside of academia, is The World Values Survey at the University of Michigan.

So much of what the media has to say about other countries, their values, and their view of democracy and the United States, is by assumption, unreliable personal experiences, and hearsay. Yet, here is a huge survey that assessed the values of 65 societies over six continents and encompassing 80 percent of the world population. Moreover, they can track the change in values of particular societies over time, since they have done surveys in 1981 (limited to Europe), 1990-191, 1995-1996, and 1999-2001 (all global). Their sample for each nation ran to at least 1,000 people. All their reports and data are available from their website or given links.

One more thing. Their systematic analysis of the values they uncover is systematic and at the forefront of available methodologies. They use correlation, multiple regression, and factor analysis extensively, on which I have written a textbook (see my summary article here, and so I can attest to the validity of their results.

Of course, I will be exploiting their conclusions and data as relevant to freedomism, and for this blog want to focus on the valuation of democracy among Arab Muslim countries. I don’t need to garner quotes for what is obvious in the American media, which is the belief that by culture and religion, Arabs do not think highly of democracy. Or to make this comparative, they think much less highly of democracy than do Western democracies. Wrong. See their studies, Muslims and Democracy” (use the search box in the upper right to search under the author, Fares al-Braizat), and “The Worldviews of Islamic Publics in Global Perspective” (use the search box to search under the author, Ronald Inglehart).

Some tidbits from both studies:

The major differences in values lie along two dimensions (75% of the variance) a traditional vs. secular rational dimension, or religiosity vs. economic development; and a survival values vs. self-expression (e.g., economic security over self-expression).

Religion defines compact cultural zones, but historical experience plays a role just as it did for those nations that were ruled by communism

As low income societies, fourteen Islamic societies tend to emphasize tradition and survival values (e.g., low tolerance of outgroups such as gays and women, and low valuation of freedom of speech and political participation), except for Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran, which tend to be more secular-rational.

The correlations between secular-rational societies across the globe and freedom is.83.

To the statement that, “Democracy may have problems but it’s better than any other form of government,” the people of five Arab countries strongly agreed. See the table below. Note with amazement how this agreement is greater than that for the sample from other regions, such as Western Europe. Agreement for other Muslim nations is a little lower, but still greater than for Latin American and U.S./Canada/Australia/New Zealand..

I trust the validity of this study, and therefore must ask: why is there such a democracy deficit in the world’s 47 Muslim countries, only a fourth of which are at least electoral democracies? In the main, it is the rule by dictators who fear radical Islamicists. Besides their personal gain and their lust for power, these dictators see democratization as a risky gamble. Thus, they use the popular language of democracy to maintain their rule. Given the popularity of democracy among the people, why don’t they rise up and demand democracy. Tradition, religion, but above all the fear of what dictatorship will do to them.

As Natan Sharansky wrote in his important and informative book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, what most clearly distinguishes democracies from nondemocracies is that in nondemocracies people live in fear. We see this in the Arab countries. Therefore, if the democratization the Arab people value is to come, it must come from pressure from the outside. In this, President Bush’s “Forward Strategy of Freedom” is well aligned with our understanding of the Middle East, and it is working.

Links to Share

“Islam and Freedom” Dean’s World Blog:

In short, regardless of the percentage of muslims in the population, the trend in most of these nations is toward greater and greater freedom (although Albania sure has staggered a lot). The only nation in this group to have regressed significantly is only 20% muslim, while nations with 35, 60, and even 99% muslim populations have measurably increased in freedom.

“Uganda Misses US Cash Over Freedom”:

ANDA has once again missed out on the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) because of its poor performance in political freedom and civil liberties. The two-year-old MCA is a development initiative that was established in January 2004 when the US Congress provided nearly $1 billion in initial funding that financial year for more than a dozen selected poor countries. President George Bush has requested $3 billion for 2006 for this democracy incentive.

“The North Korea ‘Quagmire'”:

The steady economic decline and the barely adequate humanitarian assistance received from China have brought North Korea into an economic desperation that has caused the governments controlling the nation to rely on income from illegal drug sales, sales of arms and missiles and counterfeiting currency. All of these illicit dealings are highly documented.”

Never Again: Ending War, Democide, & Famine
Through Democratic Freedom.
Downloadable free as pdf

Women’s Freedom In The Middle East

January 26, 2009

[First published May 31 2005] We tend to speak of freedom in national terms. There is so much freedom in country x or y, or little human rights in country z. We should promote democracy in w. And so on. We tend to ignore the treatment from one country or region to another of segments of the population. We should not, for in some parts of the world where human rights are denied, it especially bad for women, who are virtually enslaved, in some Muslim ruled nations such as Saudi Arabia.

Finally, we have a detailed survey of this, with each Middle Eastern and North African nation rated on the degree to which women enjoy nondiscrimination, against, access to justice, autonomy, security, freedom of the person, economic rights and equal opportunity, political rights and civic voice, and social and cultural rights. The survey, with data and essay on the results, is here..

The source gives separate ratings for each nation of five aspects of their freedom. These are not totaled, so I did so below. The best score — women’s freedom comparable to the United States and Western Europe, would be a total of 25, or close to it; the absolute worst is a total of 5. As you can see, Saudi Arabia treats its women worst of all with a score of 6.3, very close to the bottom 5, with a little jump in ratings up to Libya. Oman, and UAE. The best treatment of women among this group is by Tunisia, with Morocco not much worse. But, even for Tunisia, its score is only 16.2 out of 25 possible.

Unchaining Human Rights, Not Imposing Democracy

November 28, 2008

[First published December 17, 2004] Amair Taheri has an excellent article, “Eye of the Storm: 7 Arab excuses against reform,” in <I>The Jerusalem Post</>. The seven excuses are:

  • Economic development must precede political change.
  • Democracy is a Western system and hard to sell to the Arabs.
  • Most Arabs are poor and cannot understand democracy, let alone practice it.
  • Democracy would require the Arabs to abandon cherished ancestral values and traditions.
  • Because most Arabs are afflicted by illiteracy, reform should first focus on education
  • Democracy cannot be imposed by force.
  • There can be no democratization in Arab countries until the Palestine-Israel problem is solved.

Taheri does an good job of demolishing these excuses, but it would be easier if in place of democracy, he used the term freedom—even better, human rights. Then the ridiculousness of these excuses becomes self-evident. Try it. Replace democracy in political change in each case with freedom of speech, religion, and organization (such as creating a political party), and from fear.

For example, 

Economic development must precede freedom of speech, religion, and organization, and from fear.

Freedom of speech, religion, and organization, and from fear, is a Western system and hard to sell to the Arabs.

Most Arabs are poor and cannot understand freedom of speech, religion, and organization, and from fear, let alone practice it.

And so on. What we who foster democracy are doing is not exporting it, but unchaining people’s human rights. Period.