Parliaments are one of the main pillars of modern democracies but in dictatorships they are marginalised or entirely absent. During transitions from dictatorship to a more representative system of government, reformers invariably emphasis political emancipation and participation. They often cast aside equally important rights and freedoms and even denigrate them as impediments to political change. While in a transition we may view this move as legitimate, in all other circumstances we should not hesitate to label it as what it is: that is, a ‘reaction’ or a negative output of the revolution and the transition to more representative government.
In developing this insight, I would like to propose there are alternatives to parliaments in ‘reactionary’ democracies.
First, there is a reactionary alternative, when a democratically elected dictator has the support of the army or security forces. The popularity of this alternative in Arab countries is perhaps attributable to deep internal divisions and the associated belief there is an ongoing threat to the state’s territorial integrity.
The second alternative, which is still unexplored in most Arab countries, presents a forum for discussion and compromise where all issues of relevance for the nation as a whole can be engaged. It is grounded within a plurality of interests that it in turn reflects and reproduces. This role cannot be played by national parliaments at least in times of transition. Rather, I suggest, and seek to demonstrate, that expectations and hopes should instead be invested in apex courts, whether high or constitutional courts.
Khalil, Asem. Alternatives to Parliaments under Backward Democracies: What are the Lessons Learned from Palestine? In a conference: Arab parliaments in the recent process of transformation in Arab countries, 4-8 October 2014. The conference was organized by the University of Münster in Germany and the University of Cairo in Egypt, with the support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
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