Farres Alkhaiyer joined Healthy Democracy in August as a fellow with the 2019-2020 Community Solutions Program, a prestigious fellowship program run by the DC-based nonprofit IREX. This program brings together 80 of the brightest community leaders from around the world for four months of intensive leadership development in the United States.
As he enters his second month in the U.S. Farres reflects on his experiences while in the U.S.
When I was in Syria, I was all the time trying to imagine many aspects about Democracy, All I had back then were some theoretical concepts that I learned in books, conversations, or documentary films. I remember exactly how nostalgic I felt to certain things about democracy, although back then, I had never been practically exposed to the real thing. But like a child dreaming of playing with a toy that the parents won’t buy, I dreamed and imagined myself playing with democracy.
One of the things I heard about but never experienced before coming to the U.S was the Separation of Powers, which is the beautiful model of governance that divides the government into different branches. Officially, there is a separation of powers in many countries around the world, but when it comes to what really happens in reality, things are extremely different. Many countries have a false, or imaginary Separation of Powers, because in fact all the power is held by one person, who believes he or she is a god, rules like a devil, and acts like there is nothing wrong.
Separation of Powers is one the most amazing things I have ever seen; even if it does not do anything but provide the ability to bring anyone to court, it would be enough! It is another Syrian dream to be able to bring many criminals to courts, criminals who killed thousands of innocent people, and still be protected by the law. Why? Because they make the law.
I’ve been talking to as many people as I can, which is a crucial part of my work here at Healthy Democracy, and I have noticed a general feeling among almost everyone I met : people are bored by democracy. “It’s too slow!” is something I heard a lot. I was talking to a teenager the other day, and we were discussing Citizens Juries. I went into a long demonstration, trying to explain how beautiful the work is. How did he respond? He said: “But that’s too slow! Why can’t they just look at an example of a another city and do what it does!?”
He is still a very young man, but many older people would give a similar response. But hey! I am 30 years old, and I haven’t met any “Harry Potter”-like person in my life, I haven’t seen any magic wand, and I did not learn about any magical spells! Real life is way more complex, that is why fairness requires democratic processes. Reality is slow, and good things are most of the times very slow, just like democracy. But what democracy offers is so unbelievably valuable that taking it for granted is – in my opinion – a huge mistake.
Democracy is a process, and like all processes, democracy requires continuous work from the people to be able to survive. Democracy is more like a language or an accent: if not practiced it gets forgotten, and if not enhanced it gets outdated. That is the job of the people, not politicians.