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memri
December 7, 2015 No.
6234

Jordanian Newspaper Editor: Arab Countries Will Continue To Dream Of Canadian-Style Democracy, But Their Grim Reality Is Not Expected To Change

The recent appointment of Harjit Sajjan,an India-born Sikh, as Canada's new defense minister has attracted  great interest in the Arab media. Jumana Ghanimat, editor of the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad, wrote that this interest emanates from the Arab yearning for true democracy in their countries, where the principles of democracy have never been internalized, and where trust of the other has not matured, as sectarian, tribal, and even familial divisions in their societies remain. She noted that when Arab citizens go to the polls, they vote not for the candidates they really want, but for those who represent their sect, tribe, or clan. The voter thus is complicit in the creation of a reality that is not the one he really wants - and that, she said, is why Arab citizens can only continue to dream of Canadian-style democracy.


Jumana Ghanimat (Source: jn-news.com)

Following are excerpts from her article:[1]

"The appointment of a new Canadian defense minister was awe-inspiring for Arabs - not because it was a democratic move, but because a man born in India was appointed to this sensitive position. This apparently reflects a latent Arab aspiration to be rid of all the manifestations of division and dispute [among them] as well as [an Arab] yearning for a citizenship that does not become invalid [even] when signs of schism and differences of opinion emerge - as happens [in the Arab world].

"Democracy has principles in which we are not well versed. Today, Canada showed us an example [of such a principle], with its appointment of Harjit Sajjan as defense minister - he was born and raised in India before obtaining Canadian citizenship, and [nevertheless] he was given [such] a sensitive post. Canadians do not question his loyalty, do not discuss his origin, and do not warn against his involvement in the state's most important secrets. This is the democratic element whose absence we notice [in the Arab world]; these are the practices whose absence we have lamented for a long time.

"In Canada, citizenship and loyalty is embodied in public service, regardless of [a citizen's] origin and race. No element [in the state] has an advantage over another element, except regarding the extent to which it contributes to building the nation. Today, when we look at any Arab country, we see that what predominates in the discourse there is conflict, the [non-acceptability] of disagreement [between components of society] and rejection of the other, instead of coexistence. Our societies have been torn to shreds by politicians - to the point where our countries are now arenas of chaos, even though part of society is still making an effort, albeit so far unsuccessfully, to unite the ranks and restore national unity.

"So where does the problem lie? In the [Arab] societies [themselves], or in the regimes and the politicians? Everyone is part of the difficult situation in Arab societies, because these societies have not had sufficient awareness to confront the [phenomenon of] politicians who seek personal gain. The reality created by interested parties and regimes over decades, by keeping true democracy away, has contributed to this...

"The absence of real political action, the abnegation of human rights, and the weakness of the legislative system - [that is, the elimination of apparatuses aimed at] giving the individual a sense of security and belonging - in addition to the false promises to establish civil regimes in the Arab countries, have pushed the individual to seek protection, from his sect, his race, his tribe, or elsewhere. In this way, societies have been subdivided into smaller groups, ultimately impacting the concept of citizenship, which cannot be actualized without the two conditions of rights and obligations.

"In our circumstances, as Arabs, it is very unfortunate, worst of all because in the foreseeable future there seems to be no chance that the Arab countries as a whole will emerge from their crisis. The situation in them today is good -but only [if you want] fertile ground for all forms of extremism; they seem to be facing many difficult years to come. Thus, the dream of stability and of building democratic states remains in the mind of the citizen, who also appears schizophrenic in his behavior. That is, while he is intrigued in theory by a young (Canadian) prime minister, in our countries, young people are marginalized and absent [from politics]. So when this citizen stands next to the ballot box, he rejects the [young] official or politician of whom he [actually] dreams, and opts instead for the candidate representing his sect, tribe, or clan - and thus he is complicit in the creation of a reality that is different from the one he desires - presuming, of course, that no one interfered in one way or another with the contents of the ballot box...

"The eyes of the Arab citizen will continue to gleam with yearning for the young Canadian model, and with the desire to implement this in our [Arab] world. He will never stop complaining to others about the absence of this opportunity. But the real reason [for this reality] is the absence of standards of justice and equal opportunity, which leaves a large gap between the Arab dream and the Arab reality."

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] Al-Ghad (Jordan), November 19, 2015.