Sherif Samir, writing from Egypt
Thoughts behind the voting curtain…
Democracy is not the aim. The aim is justice, dignity, and development. Democracy is the way to it, and it's not the perfect way, but it's the best way so far. According to Rousseau, representative democracy is not a democracy at all, and even that democracy is so hard for us to reach to in Egypt.
As in Afghanistan and other parts of the third world, people must cross many obstacles before experiencing democracy. First, they must believe that politics controls the food on their tables, the education for their children, clothes, traffic, and everything else, Second, people must know that democracy is not infidelity, and that we can't go back in time and practice to the Muslim medieval regime (Khalifa), as fanatical Muslims always urge. Third, people have to know that democracy is not just an election, not just voting papers and transparent boxes. It is that and everything before and after it. It should be a free choice of a freely educated generation. It should be a choice of peace, not war, a choice of enlightenment, not ignorance, of progress, not poverty, of science, not myth, a choice of a people's representative, and not just of the lesser of two evils.
But this is not what we are having now in our countries. So, when I make my mark on the voting paper, place it in the box, put my finger in the phosphoric ink, smile at the camera and share the photo on Facebook, I won't be expecting any good change out of it, because it's a fake fruit of a fake tree.
“My dear voter, the multiple choice question you are answering now was written by me,” said the imperialist.
Dr Hakim, writing from Afghanistan
“In our history school text books, we are taught that ruthless conquerors were heroes,” offered 17 year old Najibullah, as a reason for the personification of warriors as strong leaders.
It is worrying that Afghans, like supporters of the National Rifle Association in the U.S., have unknowingly normalized the possession and use of weapons. Many Afghan parents are getting toy guns as gifts for their children, even for their daughters, on the Afghan New Year.
Children with toy guns at graveyard on Afghan New Year
“For this uncertain situation in Afghanistan, we need a good dictator,” says Murtaza, a law student at Kabul University.
Another young Afghan, Baqiatullah, says that people have to be pragmatic, so he has volunteered to campaign for one of the two Afghan Presidential candidates competing in the run-off elections on June 14th. “It’s the candidate that has more money, resources and connections that will win. Money buys votes. By the way, if you can get together some youth to form a soccer team, I’ll get you free T-shirts of Dr Abdullah Abdullah!”
In 2009, some youth and I had organized a half-day Peace Conference at Bamiyan University, and we were directed to a civil society group which turned out to be a vehicle for General Dostum’s outreach.
General Dostum is the vice-presidential candidate on Mr Ashraf Ghani’s team in this year’s election. After he had submitted his candidacy in October 2013, he had given a public apology, saying, “I would like to be the first person to say that we apologize to all who have suffered on both sides of the wars….”
I had arrived at the civil society group’s office on time, and was asked to wait for the ‘boss’ to come.
He came, a young upstart dressed in a suit and tie, appearing hurried and important. He sat behind a big mahogany desk, like a CEO of sorts, and began spouting the praises of General Dostum, who he claimed had ‘hundreds of thousands of supporters as far as Turkey’.
Then, a few young Hazaras came submissively into the office, and like indentured servants, they kneeled in front of the desk, none of them in shirt or tie, and all of them looking miserable but obedient.
I told the ‘boss’ about our Peace Conference, to which he replied crisply, “We’re very supportive of such wonderful peace efforts. If I’m too tied up with work, I will certainly send one of these members to the meeting.” With a wag of his chin, he gestured to the row of four subjects before his table.
I remember that while the ‘boss’ was boasting, one of the four Hazaras had quietly slipped out of the room, and later, came back with a pot of tea, which he poured for his ‘boss’.
His eyes had an unwilling glaze, his mind appeared to be elsewhere, but he was subserviently ‘loyal’. Did he choose to work like a slave?
No one from the group came to our Peace Conference.
While people know that perpetuating the unequal status quo dominated by a greedy and militarized elite is enslaving for the human spirit, a helpless feeling prevails that we can’t do much but vote once every four of five years.
Sherif Samir is an Egyptian writer and an Arabic teacher. He was the 2012 winner of the International Contest of Microfiction, awarded by Museo de la Palabra in Spain
Hakim, ( Dr. Teck Young, Wee ) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years, including being a mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.