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Congress deliberates on democratic governance
13 April, 2004

AMMAN (JT) -  Her Royal HighnessPrincess Basma on Monday attended a three-day "Congress ofDemocrats from the Islamic World," in Istanbul. This gathering is the first of its kind involvingpolitical leaders from predominately Muslim countries, current and formerheads of state, government ministers and parliamentarians, with the goal ofencouraging democratic development in the Islamic world. Delegates to the congress from Africa,Asia, Europeand the Middle East discussed their direct experience with democraticgovernance and their countries′ common commitment to multiparty elections,independent legislatures, women′s political participation and an active civilsociety. Amidst discussions, a platform calling attention to thefundamentals of democratic governance will be developed in accordancewith Islamic tenets and democratic principles.

At the Plenary Panel on "Islamic Culture andDemocratic Tradition," Princess Basma emphasised that religion in general should not beused as defining criteria in studying or assessing entire societies."Like all religions, Islam is a rich and noble value system that expressesour belief in the divine and provides meaning, comfort and hope to thelives of ordinary people. Yet also like all religions, it can bemobilised for political ends, and as such it can be a force for liberty or fortyranny.

" Referring to the aim of the panel discussion toinitiate a clear declaration that democracy and Islam are indeed compatible,Princess Basma said: "It is firstly important to recognise the convergence among the core values in democratic Western societies and MiddleEastern-Islamic societies that honour the ideals of justice, opportunity, humandignity and the rule of law." Her Royal Highness commended Turkey as an impressive example ofhow democratic governance develops steadily and convincingly in anIslamic culture when it is given the opportunity to do so. "Turkey′sprogress has not always been smooth or steady, yet the democratisation processhas persisted since independence.

Today Turkey is a model of a satisfyingbalance between the Turkish people′s Islamic identity and theirdemocratic values." In talking about Jordan′s democratic experience,the Princess pointed out that recognition was growing that focusing on the"supply" side of governance, through governmental and political reformis not enough. "Civil society has an invaluable role to play in stimulating thedemand side of governance, by strengthening a dynamic andvocal citizenship.

A citizenship that is aware of its rights andresponsibilities can claim its entitlements and act as a partner to government inthe development process. Such a robust relationship between people andgovernment is a crucial part of the democratic process, but it is verymuch in linewith the dynamics that govern relationships between peopleand leaders in the Islamic umma, where rights as well as responsibilitiesare both critical, for people as well as their rulers." In her concluding remarks Princess Basma said that inorder to promote justice and democracy in our world today, "we mustbe aware of the limitations of our current definitions and terms of reference, ascharacterised largely by a dominant western discourse. 

In a world where we must coexist, it is imperative that we aim to seek other discourses and frameworks to guide us. The responsibility of reform lies in all our hands,and often, in our own backyards. Promoting democratic values requiresthe ability to listen, to reconsider and to tolerate. A value-basedworld order which recognises difference is not only possible, butdesperately needed in our world." The conference was organised by the National DemocraticInstitute for International Affairs (NDI) in cooperation with UNDPand the Turkish Democracy Foundation.

Countries participating in the conference include Bangladesh, Indonesia, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Bahrain, Jordan,Morocco,Yemenand Turkey. Amongst the Jordanian delegation attending were ForeignMinister Marwan Muasher, Arab League Commissioner for Civil Society andformer Prime Minister Taher Masri, and secretary general of the JordanianNational Commission for Women  AmalSabagh. The NDI is a nonprofit organisation working tostrengthen and expand democracy worldwide.

The institute works with democrats in everyregion of the world to build political and civic organisations, safeguardelections, and promote citizen participation, openness and accountability ingovernment.