Will western-style democracy work in the Middle East?

In the article Constitutionalism, Judiciary, and Democracy in Islamic Societies, the Iranian and Turkish regimes are studied to answer the question, “Is Islamic democracy an oxymoron?” It studies judicial activism in these states to determine the feasibility of keeping a religious state from lapsing into a “guardianship” rather than truly democratic role. The author, Güneş Murat Tezcür, claims that democracy is a purely secular authority, one in which the “link between temporal and spiritual authority has been severed.” This severing often comes in the form of a revolution that drastically changes the political landscape.

Revolutions have always been plagued by the problem of engendering and sustaining confidence from its peoples. Replacing one unpopular regime with another will not lead to lasting change, so a distinct government which closely resembles the will of the people must be put in place immediately, as can be seen in the examples of the French and American Revolutions. Tezcür then proceeds to study the effect of the governments put in place after the Turkish and Iranian revolutions, the Turkish government being a secular republic, and the Iranian being a democratic-theocratic hybrid led by the Ayatollah Khomeini. In particular he studies the judicial courts, comparing their process and decisions to a liberal democracy to discover whether they are free to make decisions outside of the religious context. Unsurprisingly, his results show an inconsistency between a democratic judicial system without the influence of religion, and the judicial system of these two nations.

As an alternative, Tezcür relates a new movement in the aim for democracy in the Islamic world – quite simply, an “Islamic democracy.” In this model, government would be based on popular and free elections, with a legal system that is “compatible with both Islamic law and basic individual liberties.” He notes that Muslim secularism has often leant to complete freedom from traditional religion, rather than, in Tezcür’s words, “state neutrality towards religion.” This is in stark contrast to most Western secular democracies, which were created, as the United States’ was, in order to free a republic from the influence of religion altogether. As the path to democracy in the Middle East has been completely different, foisting a Western-style government onto a Middle Eastern nation will not result in true liberal democracy, and indeed will create negative connotations of secularism in the individual citizen. Rather than attempting to deny the influence of Islamic faith on governance and judicial review, an attempt should be made to combine the two, with freedom of citizens to guide their own path to democracy.

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One response to “Will western-style democracy work in the Middle East?

  1. It’s often thought by post-modern people that western democracy is purely secular, but it’s really built upon the foundation of western civilization which is deeply christian. We often deny our christian roots here, yet there is this strong ideal of God-given rights from our beginnings – it’s values and assumptions are written all over our founding documents. Even now, as we claim secularity, we build on that christian foundation without necessarily recognizing it – like a fish unaware of water because it doesn’t know any other environment. Islam is not the west, but I think, like the west, it needs to find it’s own democratic foundation in it’s people who, whether individually are religious or not, all have their foundation in Islamic civilization.

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