Global Governance and Good Governance in the Wake of the Arab Spring


[This is the sixteenth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on Good Governance in Islam: Classical and Contemporary Approaches held in Herndon, VA. These notes have only been lightly edited and represent my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone. Names of participants (other than mine) in the general discussion have been omitted by request of the organizers.]

“Global Governance and Good Governance in the Wake of the Arab Spring”
Dr. Mohamed Nimer, American University, Washington, DC

What is a people-powered democracy? Arabs revolted before, against generals and for bread, but this is the first revolt in the age of FaceBook. The Arabs went out of history after the Ummayyad period and this is about their return to history. I will talk about how power and agency relate to recent events and Hassan al-Banna’s idea that after reform of the Islamic individual, family, society, state, then Muslims will be in a position to lead the world for goodness. He did not speak about conquest or power.

A people-powered democracy is set up to rule out hegemony by any faction group or social class. It should not be confused with populism which is against the rich people. The rich are people too. PPD protects the agency of all its members while guarding against any on group attaining a privileged position.  The constitution of medina did not speak much about the economy, but it did speak about defense and did not require Jews or pagans of Medina to surrender their weapons.

The Arab Spring began on Jan. 14 when Ben Ali stepped down and a can-do spirit spread throughout the Arab world. The threats to the Arab revolution are the old regime. Only one revolution is complete: Libya. The first transitional agreement could be seen as a new basis for legitimacy. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) chose the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to be the spokesmen for the people. Why didn’t they allow the people to elect their own negotiators? People gravitate to power centers and the MB has emerged as such a power center. The liberals may be in the lead, but the Muslim movements emerge as the majority. In the first round of the presidential elections a plurality voted for the “revolutionary candidates” rather the MB candidate. In the early days the MB mobilized people to clean the streets forcing local government into the position of assisting the cleanup effort.

If Libya falls back into tribalism, the people could turn again to NATO. There is a precedent that when Muslims were unable to provide protection to their dhimmis they would refund the jizya. We can envision a state that provides protection and justice in a neutral manner. Absent a theory of Arab security, stick with the Qur’an, in which security and sustenance are the basic elements of human as opposed to national security. American University has an objective to have major intellectuals in the world focused in the area of human security, going beyond peace.

Discussant Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad:

We must not over-interpret the Medina compact which, although it established many sound principles for Muslim governance, was never intended to be a constitution and has no guidance on the structure of government. Libya is not a complete revolution. That is an illusion because governance in Libya was by one man, so his removal seems like a complete revolution. Libya was in, and remains in, a state of anarchy. Voting is problematical. There is an old saw about cannibals voting on whom to eat. A complete revolution must be one that leaves multiple power centers in place and maximizes the degree to which people can govern their own lives through voluntary affiliations, including armed militias, which are protected in the U.S. by the 2nd amendment.

Nimer: When I said the Libyan revolution was complete, I merely referred to regime change. I think the Libyans have achieved a lot. They have local councils, a national election, explosion of the media, TV channels, civil society institutions, political parties.  A lot has been accomplished. It is a complete change of people who have the power to kill. Why not give Libyans the right to bear arms under strict rules. The tribes have always had their weapons. All the parties Libya use Islamic slogans and references but when you ask them what it means “not everybody is the same.”


I think Nimer and Imad-ad-Dean are trying to impose too much order on revolutions. Why is the transitional agreement seen as a template for a constitution when it seems to me more like a memorandum among the tribes.

The Medina document is ahd al madina. It is neither a constitution nor a memorandum of understanding, but a statement of the relationship among the tribes.  With regard to Afriqqiyya, sub-Saharan Africa came under Islamic influence somewhat late. Whatever Ibn Khaldun’s origins may be, he was a north African thinker and fits into that well. The Muqaddimah was an introduction to his history of the Arabs and the Berbers, but above all he was a judge, a jurist, and belonged to the Islamic religious establishment and made his livelihood not as a historian but as a jurist.

What is the objective of the revolution, that we may recognize that it is complete?

Ahmad: I do not criticize Libyan revolution for lack of order, I only say it is unfinished.

Little has been said about the role of ex-patriots. It is worth considering. I for one was glad that the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t do well in Libya because they should not assume they will be the beneficiaries of any Arab revolution. I hope they will not come to power in Syria either. When we speak of the completion of revolutions we must remain mindful of the impact of the world powers. The pressure from people who sell weapons also must be understood. Malaysia wanted the Indonesian economy so dependent on Malaysia that they have no incentive to attack Malaysia.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute






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