Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Keys For Success in the Middle East: Representation



            When one looks at governments in the Middle East one thing is glaringly obvious, there are many authoritarian regimes out there. With the exception of Turkey, Israel, and to some extent Iran free elections are a rarity, social freedoms are appalling, and the ability to progress economically and through the classes is almost non-existent. On the one hand, you have Secular states that run on military might and cater to religious conservatives by "applying" Islam into the constitution. The second alternative you see in most Middle Eastern countries again is the religious nation, like Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations that proclaim the rule of Islam and nothing else. Both these scenarios bring nothing but misery to the majority of the people living under them. So what is the solution to this chaotic mess? Many would argue that you need a purely secular state with God stripped from the constitution the likes of those nations found in Western Europe and North America. Others would make the claim that the Arab-Muslim world in particular needs to move more towards an Islamic Caliphate based on the teachings of the Prophet, the likes of which this world has not seen since well the Prophet and his followers. I would argue that neither is plausible due to the complexity of Middle Eastern Arab society. A purely secular nation will ostracize religious conservatives and a purely Islamic Caliphate will do the same to religious minorities (Islamic and non-Islamic) and non-believers alike.  Before any of you, start beating the drums of war and claim that under a purely Islamic Caliphate religious minorities will be protected, I understand, and acknowledge that during the Islamic Caliphates throughout history this was observed. At the same time though the majority of the Caliphates, Sultanates, and other Islamic dynasties that practiced Islamic law were run by the military generals who did not practice any form of representative government. Therefore, I personally believe the best solution to the problem with government in the Arab-Muslim-Middle East is a fusion of these two practices. 

            What will this fusion look like? I have a rough outline in my mind that I will share now so it may be dissected, analyzed, and I hope improved upon. First, let me begin by stating that the government I have in mind for the Arab-Muslim Middle East is heavily influenced by Western styles of representative government with a dabble of Islamic influence thrown in. This government which I will call for the time being as the Representative Caliphate will resemble the United States system more than others. 

            In a representative Caliphate, you have four key ideas: Representation, Balance, Centralization and finally Separation. I will begin with Representation only and will follow up with subsequent posts regarding the other key ideas.

            Representation is very self-explanatory. For any nation, hoping to progress and modernize it must give its people a voice. In the Arab world, especially the people lack a voice. Representation is based on who has the most money and the most power in the nation. In most countries, the representation is just a fa├žade and in others, they do not even pretend to have representation. How would representation look in this government? The Western world and the Islamic faith give us two beautiful examples of how representation should look. First, let us look at the western example of the United States, which is comprised of several small republics. The United States utilizes a Bicameral Congress, which has equal representation by states (the senate) and proportional representation based off state population (the house). Such a system is easily producible in the Arab-Muslim-Middle East. The Quran speaks of Shura in three places and in Islamic history; it is known that the"Rightly Guided" Caliphs used Shura. Shura is the consultation of those who will be affected by decisions being made. When a nation makes decisions, the people (citizens) will be affected, making it necessary to consult them. Since it is logistically impossible to consulate every citizen, having representatives for groups of citizens is the most efficient way to organize consultation.  The Shura Council as I am dubbing it can be modeled off the United States Congress. An upper Shura can represent equally while the lower Shura can represent based on population. 

            What is the power of the Shura Council? For the time being the powers of the council are simplistic and based entirely off the of the United States Congress. The power to levy taxes (Jizya), the power to write and pass legislation, the power to declare war and approve treaties and so on. Again this portion of this fictional government is not yet complete it is still in the planning stages. 

            Who qualifies to be a citizen that gets representation and who qualifies to be the
representative? This question is easy, yet it will cause the most problems. Everyone who has citizenship in this fictional Arab-Muslim Nation regardless of sex, orientation, ethnicity and religion or lack thereof has the right to be represented and anyone meeting a certain age requirement has the right to represent. Many conservative Muslims out there will be against women and religious minorities being able to run for political office. To them I say this, are they not a part of the nation? If they are citizens then they have a right to choose those who they wish to represent them and that means allowing members of that group to be able to run for political office. It is a simple logical fact that in order to have a fully represented population you have to represent all the diverse groups in that population. This means Arabs, non-Arabs, Muslims, non-Muslims, men and women all have the right to be represented and represent.

            Why does representation matter? In an area of the world as diverse as the Arab-Middle East, you need to give the people a voice if you are to have an effective government. As we can, all see from observing past and present authoritarian regimes a lack of political voice for the people leads to terrible government policies. These policies range from the endless spending done on the military while neglecting the educational system to the excessive life styles of many top officials while the rest of the country goes hungry.  With representation the people can send messages via elections, they can send people to the Shura council that will actually support legislation that benefits the people and not just the ruling regime. With representation, the government will actually need to depend on the people for the power and not just assume it has the power. 

            In conclusion, representation in the form of the Shura Council and based off of the United States congress can lead to better political participation by ordinary citizens, which in turn can lead to better government policies. Next week I will discuss Balance and Centralization in terms of an elected Caliphate and an Islamic Judiciary.

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