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Peace building

Sharia and reason of state

by Peter Hauff

In brief

Democratisation of Arab countries is a real possibility. Scholars warn, however, that foreign involvement geared to foreign interests will not help, but is more likely to block the transition to constitutional rule. By Peter Hauff

People must decide for themselves whether they want to fight for political change and human rights and what risks they are prepared to run, argues Abdullahi Ahmed An-Nacim in an essay in the recent issue of the academic journal Die Friedens-Warte. He is from Sudan and is now teaching law in the USA. His essay revisits the Arab spring of last year. In his view, Islamist forces must be involved in political deliberation even though they may oppose human rights. His point is that there needs to be a suitable legal order for all citizens to participate in public life.

An-Nacim is in favour of resolving tensions between Islam and post-colonial states by distinguishing clearly between Sharia and secular law. In his view, religious laws are about preventing sin, whereas secular law is about crime. The real challenge, he states, is to enforce this distinction without manipulating the faith for political purposes.

No right to democracy

In the same issue of Die Friedens-Warte, Niels Peters, a legal scholar from Germany, assesses whether the supranational Charter of the United Nations includes something like a right to democracy. In his view, everyone has the right to fight for democracy, but there is no right to live under democratic rule. Moreover, he stresses that regime change may not be imposed from outside. There are only three exceptions in which foreign troops may intervene, he points out:
– The UN Security Council can call for collective action of the international community.
– In specific cases, the UN Charter allows unilateral military action.
– Governments that are under threat can invite other parties to intervene in their country, as happened in Sierra Leone in 1997, when Nigeria sent in troops.

In another contribution, Mehrdad Payandeh of Düsseldorf University questions the legal correctness of last year’s military intervention in Libya. The proponents cite Security Council Resolution 1973 as the basis for armed action and regime change. The author doubts, however, that interventions of this kind are generally to be considered legal. He also asks what acceptance international peacekeeping forces can expect in the future should similar interventions occur more often.

Help democrats or fight terrorists

The Arab spring took the EU by surprise. To date, EU policymaking is marked by member governments’ national interests in a lamentable way, writes Annette Jünemann, a professor of political science at Hamburg University in Die Friedens-Warte. She bemoans that EU policy towards Mediterranean neighbours did not pay much attention to democracy, but emphasised members’ prestige and economic interests. In her view, EU policymakers declared “democratic peace” to be their goal after the end of the Cold War, but the EU was basically interested in political stability.

Jünemann writes, for instance, that the EU did not pay attention to privatisation schemes in Tunisia benefiting cronies of the regime. Things only changed after the terror attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001. However, EU leaders then cosied up to US secret services and to government bodies in the Arab world. For this reason, Jünemann argues, Europeans have to be very sensitive today about promoting civil and human rights.

She doubts the EU has learned much as a political entity. She says European action is predetermined by structural logic. To promote democracy abroad, Europe would need stronger institutions in Brussels, but member countries are not campaigning to bring them about. Jünemann equally lambastes EU migration policy: “Drowned boat people have become a matter of course.” In her view, the media should raise a scandal, but do not do so.

Peter Hauff