“Wisdom is about interacting with an idea without having to adopt it.”
American elections went very smoothly, and with the exception of a fit of arrogance that overtook tycoon Donald Trump when he called via Twitter upon Obama’s opponents to march to the White House in protest against his re-election, Obama’s rivals accepted the results. The concession speech of defeated candidate Mitt Romney was dignified and exemplary in its respect for democracy and the will of the people.
In the meantime, political factions in the Arab world are sparing no effort to frustrate, incite or manipulate the people.
After the American elections, a dear friend from Yemen asked me; “What kind of a democracy is it when the one who wins actually gets less popular votes than his rival? What is the logic behind making electoral votes the decisive factor?”
I decided then to explain to him what I know about the American electoral system. I told him that the US did not start as a 50-state country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but was initially made up of 13 colonies which went on to become states.
The country then started expanding whether through wars, land deals like the Louisiana Purchase in which the US acquired from France vast parts of 15 current states in the south and the center in 1803, the annexation of the Texas Republic in 1845 and California in 1850, and finally the annexation of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959.
I told him that each of the 50 states had its own state laws and that is why the Founding Fathers had to reach a formula that guaranteed, at the same time, both national unity and electoral democracy.
In the early times, two political factions were formed. One stressed the states’ rights and later developed to become the Democratic Party, the other believed in a strong central government and later came to be called the Republican Party. These two concepts were what initially differentiated America’s two parties and not leftist or rightist tendencies as is the case today. In the Senate, each state is represented by two Senators regardless of its population while in the House of Representatives the representation of each state depends on its population.
Therefore, the logic behind the Electoral College, where each state is represented by a number equal to the sum its Congress members, is that both democracy and national unity (in diversity) are respected in a way that does not allow for the dictatorship of the majority, especially in a country that is home to a large number of minorities like Asians in Hawaii, Hispanics in New Mexico, California, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Texas, and Nevada, and African Americans in Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, and Washington DC. Thus, electoral votes or the votes of the Electoral College, become the determining factor and not the actual number of popular votes and rightly so. In fact, four American presidents won the elections despite getting less electoral votes than their rivals.
Where is the Arab world from all that?
In our Arab world, with its tribal and sectarian makeup, we refuse to accept differences and this has for decades, even centuries, been the reason behind most of our political and social ailments.
When Arabs converted to Islam, they immediately divided it into sects, each calling the other infidel, and what is agreat religion of moderation and tolerance was used as a tool of killing and subjugation.
When we embraced Arab Nationalism, we became chauvinists engaged in attempts at eliminating the cultural identity of many groups that lived with us in the region, the Kurds being the most prominent example.
When we adopted Socialism, we deformed the concept of social justice and those who claimed to be Socialists built dozens of mansions and amassed fortunes, mostly from public money.
When we decided to “liberate Palestine,” we were preoccupied with arms deals which led to using the arms bought against our people when they decided they have had enough, and subsequently rose in defense of their rights, dignity and freedom.
Refusing to recognize and accept difference (s) is still threatening the well-being of the Arab world. We are unable to advance and thrive not only like the United States, Canada, Australia, Switzerland, and Belgium, but also Brazil and Argentina if we are to talk about what was the Third World.
If countries like Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen are to adopt the federal system, that respects and protect the rights of different ethnic groups, they may secure their national unity. Otherwise, they may suffer the destiny of Sudan.
Would 38,000 Syrians have been be killed had Bashar al-Assad decided to choose a civilized means of protecting the minorities he and his father have been abusing for more than four decades?
Would a country like Lebanon, one of the most beautiful in world, be self-destructing on daily basis if it adopted a system that respected plurality?
Would Yemen be in its wretched state where the Houthis florish in the north and al-Qaeda roams in the South?
What about Iraq which is suffering under the yoke of oppression and death sentences? What about Egypt which is undermining 1,400 years of religious tolerance? What about the Arabian Gulf?
How long are we going to last if we insist on committing political suicide through refusing to listen to other points of view?
Isn’t it high time to start learning… even if from the United States?
(The writer is a columnist at the London-based Asharq al-Awsat)