This article from 1992 proves that the intellectual debate over democracy and Islam is not one that has simply materialized from the ether in the last decade, but has been debated for far longer. Immediately the author recognizes that there are no ingrained obstacles to democracy in Islamic nations, saying that the religion “has no necessary consequences for either domestic governance or foreign relations, despite the inherent unity of social and religious life in Islamic teaching.”
Despite this article being older than many of the protestors and advocates of the Arab Spring, the ideas and problems it puts forward are ones that the movements are still grappling with today. The fundamental question Zartman puts forward is this: “What can be done to create conditions for a functioning synthesis, so that democracy can be preserved in the presence of political Islam rather than being destroyed by it?” He offers five feasible solutions to this quandary:
- Establishing Islam as the national religion while simultaneously prohibiting religious or sectarian political parties;
- Developing a credible opposition as the cornerstone of a democratic government;
- Encouraging pluralism through election reform;
- Delaying political democracy until the social culture has been adequately primed; and/or,
- “Learn democracy on the job” by instituting a popular vote and allowing the masses to decide the future political landscape of their nation.
These maxims, devised after the first Gulf War, could still be incredibly valuable in the current political landscape, and should be a blueprint for modern groups such as Arab Spring who are fighting for an Islamic democracy that can succeed.