Can Islam be democratic?

The fact that there are hardly any Muslim countries that are democratic gives rise to the question, is Islam anti-democratic?  The short answer to this question is yes.

Islam is not only a religion, but also a system of governance.  In Islam there is no separation between Church and State as developed in Christendom, allowing a secular power to develop independently of the Church and in fact in time take over from it.  In Islam the State power and the religious power are unified in one structure. This has led ironically in the Muslim world to the development of military dictatorships which represented secular power as opposed to religious power.  For example, the military dictators, Ben Ali Abidine in Tunisia, Boumedienne in Algeria, Nasser and his successors in Egypt, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Assads in Syria, Atatutk in Turkey and The Shah in Persia/Iran, all took power and repressed religious authority.  Although the history of each country was different, in each case in order to develop and modernize required a power outside the religious structure and in each case it was only the military that had that capability.

Of course, there have been military dictators within the Western or Christian world.  But, generally they have been anti-democratic, even fascist, for example Franco in Spain. While by contrast in the Islamic world military dictatorships have generally been guarantors of secular power.  So in the Western world military dictatorship is generally seen as negative, while Ataturk, Nasser and the above list have actually been reformers. In order to carry out this function they have often repressed and persecuted the religious parties that developed, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its offshoots elsewhere.  For example, Hafez Assad in Syria massacred ca. 20,000 in Homs in 1982 to put-down a Muslim Brotherhood uprising.   Similarly Nasser, Saddam Hussein and the others suppressed the Muslim religious parties.  Note that the secular Ba’ath party of Assad and Saddam Hussein was founded by Christian Lebanese influenced by the French.

The so-called “Arab Spring” was initially misunderstood in Western terms to be a removal of military dictatorships and a move towards democracy.  But, the above explains why the replacement for the dictators was a pro-Islamic religious take-over and not a democratic revolution. In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood won the election, but the military could not accept this, and so intervened and replaced the Morsi Government with military control that has now morphed into quasi-civilian rule again under Pres. Al Sisi.  But, the opposite direction is being taken in Turkey, where the democratically elected President Erdogan (equivalent to Morsi in Egypt) has used the failed coup to quash the military and all opposition and become more Islamist. This is also the case in Iran, where the Mullahs have taken power and control the armed forces.

The rise of the Islamic State in the midst of the Arab world can be seen as the result of the removal of the secular military dictatorships and the freeing of the Islamic tendencies towards anti-Democratic and anti-Western norms.  This also explains why there were no similar uprisings in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf States, because they already have authoritarian regimes (monarchies) that are also the religious authority.  So the conclusion is that for the West it is preferable to have military dictators in control in the Muslim world, at least until they morph into some form of secular and democratic system.


2 thoughts on “Can Islam be democratic?

  1. You make everything so clear and easy to understand. A copy of this post should be pasted on every kitchen wall around the world.


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