Is an Islamic democracy even possible? This is a question many Westerners wonder, but a more interesting question emerging is, is democracy really the will of the Middle Eastern people? In an article for online journal Your Middle East, Musa al-Gharbi examines the political beliefs of Egyptians to determine if the push for liberal democracy is something with wide support, or simply the support of a vocal few.
With the majority of Egyptians being Sunni Muslims, the political culture of Egypt tends to be predominantly conservative, and the article shares an enlightening poll where, after the initial fall of Mubarak, 41.4% of Egyptian citizens named “Saudi Arabia as their ideal model of government.” More further from democracy Saudi Arabia could not be and yet seems to be the will of the plurality, if not the vocal protestors most of the Western world witness on CNN or the BBC. With the conservative, religious mindset of the majority of Egyptian voters seemingly set against the intrusion of liberal democracy, Al-Gharbi suggests that “the international community must allow for the emergence of illiberal democracies”, essentially allowing for whatever government is decided upon in a free election.
However, I wonder how straightforward this polling data is, and what it really brings to light about the political ideologies of the Egyptian people. In another poll of Egyptians by Amaney Jamal, which I discussed in a previous blog, Jamal proves a fairly straightforward link between education, socio-economic background, age, and political ideology that remains consistent throughout much of the Middle East. Do the plurality of voters really hold as a model of government the authoritarian Islamic monarchy of Saudi Arabia, or could it be that in an extremely economically depressed region, the wealth and economic stability of Saudi Arabia is the real attractant. This type of ideological shift is not uncommon, and can be seen throughout democratic nations, which likewise tend to shift towards the right of the political spectrum in times of economic uncertainty, as can be currently witnessed in many European nations.
The power of the status quo is one that should not be discounted when dealing with polling data, as the desire for things to remain consistent, even if what is remaining consistent is not an ideal, can be a powerful motivator against change. In this light, I wonder if the move in Egypt towards governments that resemble Mubarak’s is a matter of true personal choice, or choice being motivated by fear and uncertainty.
If democracy is not chosen by the people, for the people, can it really be called a democracy? The cultural climate, economy, and many other factors may be at play in the rejection of democracy by most Egyptians. However, the powerful and vocal opposition to political stagnation is such that the fight for democracy in Egypt may be temporarily stifled, but has not disappeared.