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December 10th, 2010, by Caroline Fourest

Caroline Fourest

Should we want free elections when a totalitarian regime threatens to win through the polls? Can election be used to give the enemies of democracy the keys to an imperfect democracy? This is the recurring Arab-Muslim world dilemma. It has arisen dramatically in Algeria. It has arisen on the eve of every election in Egypt. If it was easy to solve, it would have been long ago. Theoretically, there are two conflicting abstract temptations – angelic democracy and cynical democracy.

The angelic believes he/she can reduce the alpha and omega of democracy to the organisation of free elections without worrying about the result. Never mind if such election brings to power tyrants, fascists … who will not return the keys. This was the danger when the Salvation Islamic Front (FIS) threatened to win elections in Algeria. This is the danger posed by the victory of a movement like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. None must be mislead by their comely face and torture by the Egyptian regime. For them, democracy is but a means… to complete an expansionist totalitarian cultural fundamentalist revolution.

Supporters of the lesser evil will do anything to block them. Even though they have to support cynical governments? Under the pretence of blocking them, Arab regimes gag both Democrats and secular fundamentalists, such as Mohamed El-Baradei, who was barred from running for the presidential election, closing the door on any real alternative, and therefore on democracy.

Where is the way out? There is no quick fix. Only the poison is well known. Attempting democracy without first secularizing, as in Algeria, leads to religious dictatorship or civil war. Secularizing while delaying to democratize, as in Turkey, cannot prevent an Islamist rise, but in a more contained way, its effect seems more democratic. Although none can rule out the risk of the Islamist government of Turkey defeating the secular military and judiciary checks and balances, this process sheds light into why the Islamism of AKP (Justice and Development Party) is Temporarily less dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

It is also a matter of geopolitical agenda. In the puzzle of nations, Egypt is a historical focus of Sunni fundamentalism. If its triumph had taken place before the collapse of the theocratic regime in Iran, an election victory of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood could have stimulated and encouraged international Islamist excess. Afterwards, it may be limited to the national arena and take the path of Turkish style Islamism, provided that in the meantime Egypt is secularised, which is far from being encouraged.

Outside observers must accept the complexity of this mechanism if they are to contribute in it without playing sorcerer’s apprentice. There is no choice to be made between an authoritarian regime and a totalitarian movement. The former uses the fundamentalist threat to defer democracy; the latter claims to embody the alternative, but only dreams of dictatorship on behalf of Sharia. Smothered between the two, secular democrats are the only ones that deserve our solidarity.

To support them, it is necessary to accept that reference to a value greater democracy – theocracy – be used to disqualify a candidate or fundamentalist party while ensuring full respect for political freedoms outside such restriction, hoping that citizens of the Arab-Muslim world will one day have a choice other than… the plague or cholera.

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4 Responses to “Solving the burqa debate”
  1. Yafah1 says:

    I understand someone’s strong believe – but … what is it that ours, not being Muslims, are not respected either – if we go into an Arab Country, they DEMAND we cover our head – The same should be when a Muslim comes to OUR County – we should act as they do – we should also demand they follow our dress code!
    If they like their burka and the whole outfit – let them stay in their own country – ours is where we find freedom.
    I feel it’s a type of rebellion and to show the world that they WILL NOT change and others just have to adjust to them – but yet – we have to adjust to them when we go to their country – is this right?
    The answer is NO – as I said – if they like their “costume” let them wear it at home or in their own country! – we did not ask them to come here – they freely came – they can freely go back to home to.
    They need to adjust to the life style of the country where they go! Plain and simple – we have compromised way too much – their purpose is to take over – are we going to let them?

  2. [...] lille artikel om burka  HER hos Global Expert [...]

  3. azize says:


    i agree with yafaht. i am muslim and a covered woman. i think burqa ban is related with immigrant problem European countries faced with and other economic and social reasons. before muslims in europe were not populated as today. economic crisis all over western countries made unemployment one of the biggest issues. and now countries like germany and france do not want increased muslim population in their countries. before there was not such bans on hijab or burqa because western countries were assuming that one day those temporary workers from muslim countries would go to their homecountries. but it did not happen. in the opposite they remained and they have the highest birth rates all over europe. europe will face with cultural evoporation in the near future if the situation will continue like this. so they started to disturb muslims in their countries. not only muslims…if you recall france deported gypsies too. i think it is understandable. because under this condition the demographic feature in europe looks very weird. it seems like muslims will be the dominant population all over europe. and it is their right to ban whatever they want. at the end it is their countries not immigrants. but again i would like to point out europeans do not act like this with the religious motivations. i think muslims should not critize western countries because of burqa ban. AND WESTERNER SHOULD NOT CRITISE MUSLIM COUNTRIES IN THE NAME OF SO CALLED HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES BECAUSE OF THEIR ISLAMIC RULES TO MAKE WOMEN COVERED. Every country should respect others’ sovereignity. if we look at the us policies for covered hijabis, we see totally different attitude. because the american cultural, economic and demographic features do not resemble with the european countries. to avoid inceasing tensions, muslims should not insist to live in a place where their existence seems like a burden

  4. This details really helped me, I am sharing with a couple of friends. I will likely be checking back often to look for updates.

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