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 The Challenges of Globalization and the Muslim World    by Professor A. R. Momin

Human rights

Autocratic rule, absence of political and civil rights, suppression of freedom of expression, opinion, association and dissent, media censorship and institutionalized gender discrimination are among the conspicuous features of many Muslim countries. According to the rankings of Freedom House (an American-based monitor of political and civil rights), almost two-thirds of the 192 countries around the world are now electoral democracies. But among the 47 countries with a Muslim majority, only one-fourth are electoral democracies and none of the core Arabic-speaking countries falls into this category. Out of seven world regions, the Arab countries have the lowest freedom score. Political participation is much less developed in the Arab world than in other developing countries in Latin America, East and South-East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The Arab Human Development Report 2002 identified lack of freedom as one of the three major deficits of Arab countries. By and large, the transfer of political power through the ballot box is a rare phenomenon in the Arab world. In many Muslim countries which have some semblance of democracy, elections are often manipulated. There is no dearth of autocratic and repressive regimes in the Muslim world, both in the recent past as well as today. Riding on the wave of Islamic resurgence, the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria won the municipal and regional elections in 1990. On December 26, 1881 the first multi-party elections were held in the country. The Islamic Salvation Front emerged victorious in the first round, securing 48% of the popular vote and 188 out of 231 parliamentary seats. The ruling National Liberation Front, on the other hand, could secure only 16 seats. The Islamic Salvation Front was widely expected to repeat its earlier performance in the second round of elections scheduled for January 16, 1992. However, on January 12 the pro-West Algerian army in a de facto coup seized power and stalled the election process in order to prevent the Islamic Salvation Front from winning. The military take over was followed by a brutal suppression of the Front, precipitating a civil war in which more than 75,000 Algerians were killed and nearly 15,000 leaders and activists of the Front were arrested and imprisoned.

In 1972, an Islamically-oriented political party, the National Salvation Party, was founded in Turkey under the leadership of Necmettin Erbekan. Its primary goal was the restoration of Turkey's Islamic character and the recovery of its glorious heritage. This provided an indication of the growing popular disenchantment with the secular, Western-oriented, military-backed policies of the ruling establishment. In 1995 Erbekan's party, renamed Refah Party, won the majority of seats in Turkey's National Assembly and Erbekan became the prime minister. However, the military, which still swears by the Kemalist ideology, declared the Refah Party unconstitutional, banned it from participating in elections, and removed Erbekan from premiership.

Autocratic regimes in Africa and in the newly-independent countries of Central Asia have generally responded to the rising wave of Islamic resurgence with brutal repression. In Central Asia thousands of Muslims who are involved in movements of Islamic revival were detained on fabricated charges. Many young men and women were dismissed from schools and universities for keeping beards and wearing the Islamic headscarf.

Media control and censorship are rampant in Muslim countries. Most media agencies in the Muslim world are state-owned. Journalists often face intimidation, harassment and victimization. The Arab Human Development Report 2003 quotes Freedom House in recording that no Arab country has genuinely free media, and only three have "partly free" media. The Emir of Qatar was the first Gulf ruler to recently allow a free press in his country.

It is significant to note that there is a great yearning among the Muslim masses for democratic freedom and participation. Two most recent World Values surveys conducted in 1995-96 and 2000-2002, based on questionnaires that explore values and beliefs in more than 70 countries (comprising nearly 80% of the world's population), indicate that societies throughout the world (including Muslim societies) see democracy as the best form of government. Most of the Muslim countries surveyed think highly of democracy. In fact, in Albania, Egypt, Bangladesh, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Morocco and Turkey, 92 to 99 per cent of the population endorsed democratic institutions-a higher proportion than in the US (89 per cent).

The Human Development Report 2002 observed that "no society can achieve the desired state of well-being and human development, or compete in a globalizing world, if half of its people (women) remain marginalized and disempowered." The position of women in the Muslim world today leaves much to be desired. The Third Arab Human Development Report 2003 points out that the participation of Arab women in their countries' political and economic life is the lowest in the world. Nearly in all Arab countries, women suffer from unequal citizenship and lack of legal entitlements. There is widespread disenfranchisement of women in Arab countries. Only four Gulf countries-Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait-have given voting rights to women. The proportion of women in parliaments in Arab countries is extremely low. They occupy 3.5 per cent of all seats in parliaments, compared to 4.2 per cent in East Asia, 11 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, 12.7 per cent in South-East Asia and the Pacific, and 12.9 per cent in Latin America and Caribbean countries. Women failed to win any seat in the parliamentary elections in Kuwait held on June 29, 2006.

The most immigrant-dense areas in the world are located in the sparsely-populated, oil-rich region of the Middle East: Qatar (63.7%), Kuwait (71.6%), UAE (90.1%), Saudi Arabia (25.76%), Oman (33.56%), Bahrain (35.12%), Jordan (26.39%). In most cases, the expatriate population hardly enjoys any political or civil rights.

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