Democracy and minority rights

 21 Nov 2013 - 6:27

History is full of lessons and examples from which some learn and move forward to build and create, while some others keep stumbling and committing mistakes over and over again, destroying what they have built. 

One of the problems the Arab world suffers from and a mistake it repeatedly makes are related to the concepts of citizenship, the rights of minorities, believing in pluralism and tolerance, accepting others, and coexistence.

The International Encyclopedia for Social Sciences defines minority as “a group of people who are ethnically, nationally, religiously and linguistically distinguished from the rest of society, and relatively suffer from lack of power. As a result, they are subjected to some types of slavery, oppressions and discriminatory treatment”. 

The American Encyclopedia defines the word minority as a “group of people who have a social status lower than the dominating groups in the community”. They have less power and influence, and enjoy fewer rights compared to the dominant groups in the community. People from the minority are often deprived of privileges enjoyed by the first dominating class”. 

Moreover, the draft European Convention on Minority Protection defines the same word as “a group of people whose number is less than the rest of the other population in a country. Members of this group are racially, linguistically or religiously distinguished from the rest of the community, and they are keen to maintain their own culture, traditions, religions and language”. 

Regarding minorities, Arab countries suffer from two significant dilemmas, namely relationship with others who are different in their beliefs, and with those who are different in their doctrine within the same religion. The difference in creed was apparent in the mass migration of Arab Christian minorities from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt to the Americas, Europe, Australia and even Africa. 

Although wars and conflicts have been the main reasons for individual and mass migration, the minority feel that they are a “lower class of citizens” or non-Muslims under the protection of the Muslim majority. The changes brought about by the Arab Spring revolutions have deepened the crisis and left it unaddressed. 

Relationships among people who are different in their doctrines are apparent, particularly in Iraq and Syria, where legitimate demands and political differences have turned into armed wars and open sectarian conflicts between Sunnis and Shias. The lesson people in these countries have to learn is that the future depends on the participation of all citizens regardless of their ethnicity, religion or culture. 

No ruler can achieve success by subjugating, marginalising or isolating other groups. Democracy does not necessarily mean the rule of the majority; it depends on the extent to which it maintains minorities’ rights and promotes citizenship.  

In addition, the minority of today can become the majority one day. But it is important for it to not turn into an agent of repression that practices exclusion or takes revenge on the old majority after it comes to power.

 

History is full of lessons and examples from which some learn and move forward to build and create, while some others keep stumbling and committing mistakes over and over again, destroying what they have built. 

One of the problems the Arab world suffers from and a mistake it repeatedly makes are related to the concepts of citizenship, the rights of minorities, believing in pluralism and tolerance, accepting others, and coexistence.

The International Encyclopedia for Social Sciences defines minority as “a group of people who are ethnically, nationally, religiously and linguistically distinguished from the rest of society, and relatively suffer from lack of power. As a result, they are subjected to some types of slavery, oppressions and discriminatory treatment”. 

The American Encyclopedia defines the word minority as a “group of people who have a social status lower than the dominating groups in the community”. They have less power and influence, and enjoy fewer rights compared to the dominant groups in the community. People from the minority are often deprived of privileges enjoyed by the first dominating class”. 

Moreover, the draft European Convention on Minority Protection defines the same word as “a group of people whose number is less than the rest of the other population in a country. Members of this group are racially, linguistically or religiously distinguished from the rest of the community, and they are keen to maintain their own culture, traditions, religions and language”. 

Regarding minorities, Arab countries suffer from two significant dilemmas, namely relationship with others who are different in their beliefs, and with those who are different in their doctrine within the same religion. The difference in creed was apparent in the mass migration of Arab Christian minorities from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt to the Americas, Europe, Australia and even Africa. 

Although wars and conflicts have been the main reasons for individual and mass migration, the minority feel that they are a “lower class of citizens” or non-Muslims under the protection of the Muslim majority. The changes brought about by the Arab Spring revolutions have deepened the crisis and left it unaddressed. 

Relationships among people who are different in their doctrines are apparent, particularly in Iraq and Syria, where legitimate demands and political differences have turned into armed wars and open sectarian conflicts between Sunnis and Shias. The lesson people in these countries have to learn is that the future depends on the participation of all citizens regardless of their ethnicity, religion or culture. 

No ruler can achieve success by subjugating, marginalising or isolating other groups. Democracy does not necessarily mean the rule of the majority; it depends on the extent to which it maintains minorities’ rights and promotes citizenship.  

In addition, the minority of today can become the majority one day. But it is important for it to not turn into an agent of repression that practices exclusion or takes revenge on the old majority after it comes to power.