The region of West Asia and North Africa (WANA) has, over the past one year, experienced the emergence of a dynamic transnational Arab public sphere in an unprecedented manner, according to A.K. Ramakrishnan, Chairman, Centre for West Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Prof. Ramakrishnan was delivering a special lecture on ‘Contemporary movements for democracy in West Asia' at the School of International Relations and Politics (SIRP), Mahatma Gandhi University, here on Monday.

He said that the movements for democracy in the Arab world have been propelled by a higher form of ‘connectivity' that has been characterised by a greater degree of social and political interaction provided by information, technology, new media and satellite communication. This has accelerated the pace of debates in the Arab world on issues of democracy, citizenship, religion and gender.

Prof. Ramakrishnan said the situation in the Arab world has been worsening for many years with the introduction of neo-liberal measures, leading to a high intensity of marginalisation, and social and economic inequality within each country across the WANA region.

This has happened at a time when the capital accumulation process has been well under way while the regimes in power have been monopolising the windfalls of globalisation. The people across each country had experienced the levels of marginalisation in different ways but the process of mobilisation against the regimes has witnessed, more or less, the same pattern with diverse sections of society playing active roles in it.

He said the neo-liberal strategy of separating economics from politics has not worked in the region. It has, rather, triggered new movements for democracy and thereby leading to an Arab rethinking of citizenship, democracy and the role of agencies like the state. Though the Arabs started re-imagining themselves, they assumed different forms and operated in diverse ways. In the process of democratisation, the Arabs, in general, opted for a bottom-up strategy of democratisation rather than a top-down approach to democracy that is generally promoted by the West. The role of religion is critical in this aspect, he opined.

In most cases, Islam is seen as a system-challenging tool rather than as a system-sustaining one, like the traditional function of the religion unveils. However, he observed that there are more questions in place with regard to the role of religion in the entire democratisation process than answers, especially in the context of the emergence of religious political parties in the electoral outcomes now being debated.

M.V. Bijulal welcomed the audience. K. M. Seethi, Santhosh George and others spoke.

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