It is barely a little over a year ago, when Arab countries began to undergo violent changes in their system of government. First to go was Tunisia, followed by Egypt and then Libya.
Currently, the focal point of another change is centred in Syria where government and rebel forces have locked horns. Let us make frantic efforts to search for the underlying causes of these changes.
To the greater majority of observers who have not been following events in Arab countries, the current revolution is too sudden. But to keen observers who have been following events, these changes have rather been simmering in the past.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was cracked down by President Nasser in 1952 when they opposed his one party socialist system with their multi-party democratic option. Similarly, political opponents of Prez. Moumar Gadafi who assumed power in 1970 was tracked to western countries and hunted down for opposing his one party Jamaahiiriiya system with their demand for multi-party democratic governance.
In Tunisia, opponents of the military which ruled the country were also exiled to western countries. The year 2011, therefore, marked a great land mark in Arab history when the old system began to give way to a new.
It is true to state that the advent of Islam in the 6th century A.D bequeathed to Arabs a system of government termed as the Khilafat (the Caliphate system) wherever Islam went.
After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, he was succeeded by Khalifas who ruled theocratically, using the Quran as the basis. In the beginning the spiritual and temporal Islam were combined.
With time the spiritual and the temporal separated. All the same, Arab rulers continued to use the title Khalifa, even though they dealt purely with temporal matters whilst they were advised by religious scholars. It is this system of governance that has characterized Arab and Muslim governments up to date.
Let me cite two extreme examples to endorse this point. In Egypt where a dynastical rule was overthrown by Nasser in 1952, he set up the so-called Republican Government in which the inner circle of the revolutionaries ruled. After his death he was succeeded by Sadat who was also succeeded by Mubarak who was overthrown in 2011.
Here, once appointed they ruled for life. Similarly, in Saudi Arabia which is a dynasty ruled by the Ibn Sauds, kings are appointed from the family to rule. Thus, after Abdul Azeez, the founder of the Saudi Kingdom, he was succeeded by Saud, then by Faisal, Khalid, Fahd and currently by Abdallah.
As pointed out, what is common to all the systems, whether it is Republican, Kingdom, Sultanate or Sheikhdom, once appointed you rule for life. Secondly, only a limited number of people are involved in the choice of the ruler. Just as the Islamic Khalifas were appointed for life.
Against this system of government must be weighed the current democratic dispensation evolved by the Western countries in which the entire nation is involved in the intricate business of choosing a ruler. Not withstanding its drawback of incurring huge financial costs in campaigning, the promise of the doors of leadership are opened to every member of society through election as a basic right.
It is this major trump card that has made the multi-party democratic system the current preferred choice. And not until mankind has exhausted this system with its accompanying advantages and disadvantages, the current obsession is likely to persist into the future.
Maintaining the Arab system of government, described above, in the face of popular democracy which is gradually engulfing the entire world, is like a piece of inhabited island in the middle of the sea surrounded by roaring sea waves.
It is only a matter of time before the entire island and its buildings are covered by waters and swept away. Arabs are, therefore, human beings with human tastes and tendencies. They must be seen first and foremost as such when accessing them.
Let us consider other factors, besides the ones discussed above.
Such factors include issues like women not being allowed to vote or drive. These have no Islamic basis, and can never be traced to the Quran or the Sunnat, the practical interpretations of the Islamic Law (Shariah).
Let me briefly give the following demonstration to show how such unislamic decisions have contributed to speeding up the revolution. Consider the case of a filthy rich Arab lady who has inherited millions of dollars in oil revenues from her deceased father. And there are hundreds and thousands, nay millions of such ladies living in Arab countries in affluent surroundings beyond imagination.
The existence of some poor ones will, therefore, not annul that fact. She is sitting in front of her TV, viewing election events in say a West African State- Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast or Ghana. All of a sudden she sees people waiting for their turn to cast their votes including Muslim ladies identified by her veil.
In the same context, she also sees another Muslim lady driving a pajero to cast her vote identified by her veil. How will the Arab lady feel? Very bad to the point of making her extremely sad. Why? For the fact that notwithstanding her comfortable economic environment she still lacks something that should be given to her as a basic human right-to vote and to drive.
You can be reassured that a revolution has already taken place in her heart. It is only a matter of time when that change will palpably manifest in the outside world.
Let me now end the discussion on the pertinent issue of whether the current democratic dispensation can be practiced under Islam. An answer to this question takes us back across time to the modus operandus applied to the election and appointments of the rightly guided Khalifas (Khulafaau Rashideen).
Abubakar, for instance, was elected by the emigrants (Muhajiriins) and the Helpers (Ansars). The immigrants were the early Muslims who migrated with Islam’s Prophet from Macca to Madina in the Hijra (Migration). The Ansars were the Muslims from Madina who got Islam entrenched in Arabia with their numbers, lives and wealth.
He was, therefore, elected by the two only existing representatives of the Muslims at the time and later endorsed by the general body of Muslims.
Umar, the second Khalifa, was nominated by the first Khalifa, before his death. He then solicited for the support of Umar’s Caliphate, which he obtained. Usman, the third Khalifa, was elected by an electoral college of six Companions that included himself. Ali, the forth Khalifa, was elected by the greater majority of Muslims, call it a unanimous vote.
The modus operandus for the election of Ali, May Allah honour his face, can therefore be modified and adapted to suit the modern situation of popular election involving the entire nation. It is pertinent to state that the election of Ali, even though was popular was effected in the face of equally capable contenders.
These included other members of the electoral college of six: Talha, Zubair, Abdul Rahman Bin Auf and Ali himself.
In reference to his illustrious Companions as role models, the Prophet said “My Companions are like the bright stars in heaven.
Whichever of them you follow you will be rightly guided to Allah” (Bukhari, Muslim). In effect we say emphatically that the present democratic dispensation can be practiced under Islam, with some modifications and adaptations.
For the sake of stability in society, political parties must be stopped or restrained from embarking on campaigns of vilification against other political parties. They must be enforced to only speak to the masses concerning what they can do and will do for the nation if given the mandate to rule.
In addition Muslims must evolve intricate and elaborate systems of cutting down the heavy cost involved in electoral campaigns in order to avert debts inherited by the national economy after elections.
As a matter of fact the nation continues to search for solutions to these problems to ensure fair, credible and economically executed elections.
In short, any Muslim who is of the opinion that the present political dispensation proposed and practiced by the Western nations cannot be practiced under Islam is certainly living in the past. With modifications and adaptations it can, as already demonstrated by some Muslim countries.
On the occasion when he lay sick on his bed from which he never recovered Prophet Mohammed told his wives to tell Abubakar to lead prayers-an indication of his leadership after his death.
The prophet’s wives opposed him saying that they preferred Umar for the fact that they deemed Abubakar too soft compared to Umar who was strong in every sense of the word. They kept on opposing him until the Prophet, at one point, shouted at them to carry on his orders.
The Prophet, on whom be peace, had his choice and the wives too had their choice different from that of the Prophet. Is there any democracy greater than this?
The Prophet, whilst preparing to fight in the battle of Uhud proposed that the Muslims must fight the enemy not within but outside Madina. This was objected to by the greater majority of Muslims; hence the Prophet accepted their decision and the war was fought outside Madina.
Is there any democracy greater than this, that the decision of the majority must be respected and was respected?
In short, Muhammad and the Muslims all succumbed to the dictates of Allah as divinely enshrined in the Quran. But when it came to consideration of matters outside divine relation, he brain-stormed it with the Companions and the Muslims. Democracy is, therefore, enshrined in the Quranic words: “Whose affairs are decided by mutual consultation”, which is Al-Shura in Arabic.
Another root cause of the Arab revolution is traceable to unemployment, particularly among the youth.
The world-wide trend towards democracy is indeed exerting enormous pressure on Arab governments. Under Islam, the current democratic dispensation can be adapted and modified in the Arab world.