THE ISLAMIZATION OF DEMOCRACY:|
The Political Requisite Of Democracy In The Muslim World(*)
By: Dr. Mohamed Berween
This paper begins by asserting that despite the attractiveness of the concept of democracy across the globe, it is still an ambiguous and difficult term to define. Literally, it means the rule of the people, but what this exactly means is not clear. For instance, whereas president Abraham Lincoln defined it as “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” President James Madison, the father of the American Constitution and the first political scientist in America, described democracies, in the Federalist No. 10, as: “... ever … found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” Which one is correct? Maybe Winston Churchill, the former prime minister of Britain, who once said that “democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others” is the most correct.
In this paper I will define democracy as a political system which is based on choice, competition, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. And I define democratization as the process by which a political system changes from a non-democratic to a democratic one.
Further, I argue that the process of Islamizing democracy in the Muslim countries faces seven substantial challenges over the coming years. These challenges are as follows: (1) providing choice: (2) establishing constitutionalism: (3) creating competition: (4) building strong institutions; (5) solving the crisis of political leadership; (6) demilitarizing politics; and (7) minimizing external influences.
For successful democratization of the Muslim countries, the Islamist groups must be able to participate freely and fully in the political process. The democratization process must come from Muslims themselves, otherwise it will not succeed. I will conclude this paper by emphasizing the following points: (1) In order for democracy to succeed in the Islamic countries, it has to be Islamized – meaning, it has to be redefined in Islamic terms and make it acceptable to the Muslim masses; (2) Islamizing democracy is the best way to stabilize the Muslim world and to get rid of extremism; (3) There is no question that
the vast majority of Muslims desire justice, liberty, peace, and representative political institutions: (4) I agree with all those who argue that Islamizing democracy is still a work in progress and that a great deal of hard work remains; (5) It has to be understood that democratization in Muslim countries will not be easy, nor will it be cost-free – people will die and dictators will become more brutal; and finally, (6) If the West and the United States are sincere in their support for freedom and democracy in the Islamic countries, they have to stop supporting dictatorship in these countries. They must open dialogue with the Islamists who believe in respecting the rule of law and be willing to accept modern, democratic Islamic states.
The Muslim masses, like everybody else, love freedom, equality, peace, justice, and democracy, but most of them are frustrated and angry because they do not enjoy these values in their own societies. The main reason for this anger and frustration is that the Muslim World has been ruled since its independence by various forms of authoritarian regimes where the state has controlled all aspects of its citizens’ lives. The purpose of this paper is twofold: First, to define the concepts of democracy and democratization; and, second, to argue that there are seven substantial challenges facing the process of Islamizing democracy in the Muslim World over the coming years.
A. THE CONCEPTUAL PROBLEM: DEMOCRACY AND DEMOCRATIZATION
Let me start by asserting that despite the attractiveness of the concept of democracy across the globe, it is still an ambiguous and difficult term to define. Literally, democracy means the rule of the people, but in reality, it means different things to different people. For instance, whereas president Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg address in 1863, described it as “a government of the people, by the people, for the people” (McClenaghan, 1994, p.13), President James Madison, the father of the American Constitution and the first political scientist in America, described democracies as: “[having]... ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths” (James Madison, The Federalist No. 10).
Which one is correct? Maybe Winston Churchill, the former prime minister of Britain, who once said that: “democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others”(Sorensen, 117). Or maybe professor Robert Dahl who offers the most generally accepted listing of what he terms the “procedural minimal” conditions that must be present for modern political democracy (or as he puts it, “polyarchy”) to exist. These conditions are: (1) control over government decisions about policy is constitutionally vested in elected officials. (2) elected officials are chosen in frequent and fairly conducted elections in which coercion is comparatively uncommon; (3) practically all adults have the right to vote in the election of officials; (4) practically all adults have the right to run for elective offices in the government; (5) citizens have a right to express themselves without the danger of severe punishment on political matters broadly defined; (6) citizens have the right to seek out alternative sources of information. Moreover, alternative sources of information exist and are protected by law; and (7) citizens have
the right to form relatively independent associations or organizations, including independent political parties and interest groups (Dahl, 1982, p. 11; Quoted also in: Schmitter and Karl, 1991), pp. 75-87.).
In this paper I will define democracy as a political system which is based on choice, competition, respect for human rights, and the rule of law. I will define democratization as the process by which a political system changes from non-democratic to become democratic. In other words, it is the process by which a political system changes from non-democratic to a more free, competitive, open, and participatory system.” Or as professor Charles Hauss puts it: “the establishment of a democratic political regime.” (Hauss, August 2003).
B. THE POLITICAL REQUISITE OF DEMOCRACY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD
There are seven substantial challenges facing the process of Islamizing Democracy in the Muslim countries over the coming years. These challenges are: (1) providing choice; (2) establishing constitutionalism; (3) creating competition; (4) building strong institutions; (5) solving the crisis of political leadership; (6) demilitarizing politics; and (7) eliminating (or at least minimizing) external influences.
1. Providing Choice
The first challenge facing the Islamic countries is how to allow all citizens the freedom to choose. If there is not the freedom to present all sides of an issue, can there be a real choice? Here, I would argue that there is no idea that is more central and important to Muslim values than the concept of choice. To Muslims, choice means the right to be free. And since citizens – in every modern society – are the most distinctive elements in the state, they must have the right to choose: what, when, how, and who, should govern them in order for a democracy to succeed and survive. This means that citizens constitute a community of equals (symbolized by "one man, one vote"). It means, also, giving people other choices such as economic and cultural choices. Providing a choice means that there are certain things government cannot and should not do. For instance, the government must explicitly be prevented from denying citizens the right to practice the religion of their choice and the right to say and write whatever they please. But since choices have no universal meanings and are not absolute, they might be sometimes restricted. These restrictions however must be determined by relative existing conditions stated in a social contract – usually called a constitution – accepted by all citizens. Finally, the principle of providing choice is closely linked to a major principle that government should be limited: governmental powers should be defined and limited by a constitution.
2. Establishing Constitutionalism
The second challenge facing the Islamic countries is how to establish constitutional rule based on Islamic Sharia and the rule of law. A constitutional system is one that organizes government, places limits on its scope, defines rights, responsibilities, and duties of citizens, and sets due processes for individuals should the government exceed its authority. In order to achieve this the Islamic countries must include, in their constitutions, at least the following provisions:
a. The supremacy of Sharia and the rule of law
In the Islamic countries there would be no substitute to relying on Sharia in making laws. By the supremacy of Sharia I mean that all laws passed by a government and its branches must not contradict the fundamental principles of Sharia. We need to understand that what distinguishes Islamic democracy from Western democracy is not that the latter is based on the concept of popular sovereignty, in which political authority rests ultimately in the hands of the people, while the former is not. Rather, it is in the understanding of the relationship between religion and state. Generally speaking, there can never be a total separation of religion and state in any country, for even the United States does not have a complete separation of religion and state. For example, in the United States: ”...The House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution that the motto ‘In God We Trust’ be placed behind the Speaker’s Desk in the House Chamber” (Stephenson at el, 1992, p. 109). This motto ‘In God We Trust’ is also placed on the U.S. Dollar. Both houses of the United States Congress also have chaplains who pray at the beginning of each day’s session; and both include “So help me God” in their oath taking. Also, both use the Bible to make oaths by placing the right hand on the Bible.
The idea of constitutional rule refers also to the rule of the law. It means equality before the law, or equal subjection of all citizens in the society to the laws of the land. The main point here, I would like to emphasize, is that in the Muslim countries there is a lack of respect by the ruling elites for the rule of law. In other words, the Muslim countries have a constitutional crisis, which means that they do not have a nation based on the rule of law. Muslims are eager to have a government of laws and not of men. The challenge here is not in writing a constitution, rather it is in implementing it and making it a reality. The very existence of a written constitution does not imply the rule of law. Actually, almost all Muslim countries have written constitutions, but do they respect and abide by them?
b. The principle of separation of powers
In addition to having a constitution; a popular control over government; and, a freedom of choice, the Islamic countries need to implement the principle of separation of powers. In the Federalist (No. 51), James Madison – the principal architect of America’s separation of powers and checks and balances system – “... identified two major threats to liberty: (i) “factions” (or interest groups) who seek their own good at the expense of the common good, and (ii) the excessive concentration of political power. Madison’s solution was the creation of a strong national government with separation of powers and checks and balances” (Tannahill and Bedichek, 1988, pp. 46 - 47).
This principle has been implemented as the division of powers among the three branches of government – the legislature, the executive, and the judicial branches, with the legislative branch making laws, the executive applying and enforcing the laws, and the judiciary interpreting (or upholding) the laws. The reason for this system is to provide protection against political tyranny. It is to ensure that no one branch of government holds too much power and to reduce the risk that a single branch might act independently and abuse power. Or as James Madison stated it: “there can be no liberty where the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person ... [or] if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers ....” (Lowi and Ginsberg, 1992, p. 88).
c. The principle of majority rule and minority rights
The reconciliation of majority rule with minority rights is one of the great dilemmas of democracy. This principle means that a government follows the preferences of the majority of voters but protects the interests of the minority. The preservation of minority rights does not, of course, mean that the policies of the minority must be accepted by the majority. Rather, it means that the minority must be granted certain basic freedoms. At his first inauguration in 1801, the U.S. President Thomas Jefferson described the relationship between majority and minority this way: “bear in mind the sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will, to be rightful, must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal laws must protect” (Volkomer, 2004, p. 9). In a democracy, majority rule is legitimate only if it respects and protects the rights of the minority.
3. Creating Competition
The third political requisite for democracy to succeed in the Islamic World is establishing a competitive political system, a political system that will enable citizens to get what they want out of their governments and allow free competition among all groups in the society. To achieve this there must be genuine competition for all elected offices in the society. This means that public offices should be open to all talented and ambitious citizens, whatever their social origins or status.
The ultimate goal must be to establish a political system that allows all political elites that accept the state’s constitution to compete for all governmental positions through a free and open electoral process. Professor Robert Dahl offers the most generally accepted listing of what he terms the “Procedural minimal,” or conditions that must be present, for modern competitive political democracy to exist. These conditions are: (1) control over government decisions about policy is constitutionally vested in elected officials; (2) elected officials are chosen in frequent and fairly conducted elections in which coercion is comparatively uncommon; (3) practically all adults have the right to vote in the election of officials; (4) practically all adults have the right to run for elective offices in the government; (5) citizens have a right to express themselves without the danger of severe punishment on political matters broadly defined; (6) citizens have a right to seek out alternative sources of information. Moreover, alternative sources of information exist and are protected by law; and, (7) citizens have the right to form relatively independent associations or organizations, including independent political parties and interest groups (Dahl, 1982, p.11; Quoted also in: Schmitter and Karl, 1991, pp. 75-87).
4. Building Strong Institutions
The fourth challenge facing the Islamic countries is how to create strong, independent, and modern political institutions. To be practical, democratic principles have to be translated into actual institutions. It is obvious to every political observer in the Islamic countries that the Muslim world lacks strong and independent political institutions. Unfortunately, the military is the only strong, modern, and powerful institution that has been established in the Islamic countries since their independence. Therefore, I would argue that to Islamize democracy we must establish strong political institutions that provide reasonable expectations and enable all citizens to exercise their constitutional rights. When this situation exists all political elites will feel free and become engaged constructively in the political process. As George Sorensen states it: “elite groups will support democracy only insofar as they feel certain that their interests will be looked after under more democratic conditions” (Sorensen, 1998, p. 29). Some political scientists, such as professor Samuel Huntington, conceptualize the whole political development as the institutionalization of a society. He defines institutionalization as the process by which organizations and procedures acquire value and stability. “... And the level of institutionalization of any political system can be defined by the adaptability, complexity, [and] autonomy of its organizations and procedures.” (Huntington, 1965, p. 394). The institutionalization of a society is also essential for political representation. One could argue that it would be very doubtful that any modern democracy would survive without political representation. The question is not whether or not there will be political representation, but how these representatives are chosen and then held accountable for their actions or nonactions. All this would not be accomplished without strong and modern political institutions. Therefore, the institutionalization of the society is a must to consolidate and strengthen democracy.
5. Solving the Crisis of Political Leadership
The fifth challenge facing Islamic countries is how to solve the crisis of political leadership. The main barrier to a transition from authoritarianism toward democracy in the Islamic countries is fundamentally the lack of political will by the current political leaders of these countries. It is often true that when a collective action is successful, it is the top leaders who often are mentioned in the history of nations. For instance, Stevenson (1984) argues that American history is largely the history of the American presidency. It is a history of men rising to the demands of their time in an office that afforded them power to govern: Lincoln preserved the Union and freed the slaves; the Roosevelts are remembered for war and reform; Truman for a political and economic world order; and Kennedy for the space program and the Cuban missile crisis (Stevenson 1984, 18).
Unfortunately, the Islamic World today faces a crisis of political leadership and it is essential to solve it in order to Islamize democracy. Effective political leadership permits a ruler to take advantage of his country’s economic and military capabilities and lead his country toward a prosperous future. Gabriel Almond argues that “democractization can occur whenever the leaders, pressured or influenced by democractization elsewhere, begin moving in the democratic direction” (Almond, Gabriel, et al, 2002, p. 195).
6. Demilitarizing Politics
The sixth political requisite for democracy to succeed in the Islamic World is the demilitarization of politics. Unfortunately, the military is the only strong, modern and powerful institution that has been established in the Islamic countries since their independence and a new democratic government needs to be able to govern without military interference. Professor Fawaz Gerges describes this challenge as follows: “ ...The fact that the new elite that assumed power after the end of colonialism came mostly from the military-security apparatus, one that is deeply hierarchical, rigid and authoritarian.”(Gerges, April 30, 2005).
I would argue that the biggest threat to Islamizing democracy is the role of the military in politics. In order for democracy to flourish, in the Islamic countries, new democratic institutions need to be able to govern without military interference. This means that civilian control over the military is essential for democracy to succeed. Direct military intervention in the political process should be the exception rather than the rule in the modern state.
I would also argue that the demilitarization of politics could be achieved by, at least, the following: (1) strengthening the political civil institutions in the society – this will decrease the probability of military intervention in politics. The military may be welcomed as a means of ridding the state of the old corrupt and inefficient politicians. Therefore, the failure of the existing political institutions to establish a legitimate base and to win the respect and support of the citizens and the powerful groups within the state is a particular problem for new nations that might lead to military intervention. (2) Legitimizing civilian control over the military. The probability of military intervention increases as the legitimacy of the political system decreases. (3) Prohibiting the military from interfering in domestic politics and limiting its role to the maintenance of national security against external threats. This is, for instance, what characterizes the role of the British military throughout its recent history. The primary domestic political activity of the British military is to convey its needs and interests to the government. Because of this clear role of the British military, the most recent military intervention in British politics occurred in the seventeenth century, when the revolt of the army brought about a military dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell, which lasted only twelve years (Roth and Wilson, 199, p.323). In the United States, since its independence in 1776, the military intervened in domestic politics only once, during the civil war of 1861–1865.
In addition, demilitarization of politics could be achieved by (4) the formation of rival military groups to counterbalance the traditional military; (5) relocating all the military bases and barracks outside the cities, especially the capitals – there is no constructive and rational reason for allowing the government to establish military barracks inside the major cities; and, (6) the depoliticization of the military. This simply means that politics should be taken out of the military. One of the main things that needs to be emphasized here is that soldiers should not be partisan. They must be neutral and focus on their main goal of protecting the state’s sovereignty and constitution.
7. Eliminating (or at Least Minimizing) External Influences
The seventh and final political requisite for democracy to succeed in the Islamic World is to eliminate (or at least minimize) external influence. For this to be achieved, the following is necessary: (1) the United States and the West must stop supporting dictatorship in the Islamic countries. This is one of the main challenges facing the Islamic countries. Or as Fawaz Gerges puts it: “...Like their counterparts elsewhere, Arabs and Muslims have struggled to free themselves from the shackles of political authoritarianism without much success, thanks partly to the support given by the West, particularly the United States, to powerful dictators.” (Gerges, April 30, 2005). (2) The Islamists must be allowed to participate freely and fully in the political process, otherwise, these countries will continue to have a participation crisis, which is a conflict that occurs when the governing elites view the demands or behaviors of individuals or groups seeking to participate in the political system as illegitimate. It is a crisis that takes part in the making of governmental decisions. In other words, the democratization process must come from Muslims themselves otherwise it will not succeed. What the United States and the West need to recognize is that the Islamists, as Carrie Wickham puts it: “...do not reject the principle of democratic reform per se; on the contrary, in their official programs and public statements, they claim to be among its staunchest advocates. What such leaders object to is not so much the content of the U.S. reform initiative as the ulterior motives alleged to lie behind it.” (Wickham, 04 November 2004).
We need to remember that it is not the Islamists but the exploitation of the fear factor that has precluded the democratization of Islamic countries. Actually, there is nothing unique or intrinsic about Islam that inhibits democratic governance. (3) The United States and the West need to show their good intentions to the Muslims. They have to demonstrate that they are in the region to help the Muslim masses to get their liberty and determine their destiny. I agree with professor Fawaz Gerges when he states that “...still, in the minds of many Arabs and Muslims, liberal democracy remains synonymous with Western political hegemony and domination.”
Democracy tends to be seen as a manipulative tool wielded by Western powers to intervene in Arab/Muslim internal affairs and to divide and conquer” (Gerges, April 30, 2005). Most of the Muslims see the U.S. democracy initiative, led by president Bush, as part of a larger war against Islam. (4) If the United States and the West are serious about democratizing the Islamic world then they have to abandon the Western concept of secularism. In the Muslim countries it will be impossible to separate politics from Islam and the best solution for these countries is to Islamicize democracy. Unfortunately, according to Michael Hirsh:
“...Lewis's Kemalist vision of a secularized, Westernized Arab democracy that casts off the medieval shackles of Islam and enters modernity at last, remains the core of George W. Bush's faltering vision in Iraq. His administration's official goal is still dictated by the “Lewis Doctrine,” as The Wall Street Journal called it: a Westernized polity, reconstituted and imposed from above like Kemal's Turkey, that is to become a bulwark of security for America and a model for the region” (Hirsh, 05 June 2005).
If this is true then I would argue that the American democratization process in the Islamic countries is destined to failure and ensure that the time for establishing secularized and Westernized democracy, in the Islamic World, is gone.
Let me conclude this paper by emphasizing the following: first, in order for democracy to succeed in the Islamic countries it has to be Islamized – meaning, it has to be redefined in Islamic terms, concepts, and make it acceptable to the Muslim masses. Second, when the Islamizing of democracy takes place, it will lead to stabilization and get rid of extremism. Enabling the Islamists, who accept the rules of the game and respect the state’s constitution, is the best and most effective way to curb the growth of extremism. Third, there is no question that the vast majority of Muslims desire justice, liberty, peace, and representative political institutions. Fourth, I agree with all those who argue that “Islamicizing liberal democracy is still a work in progress; a great deal of hard work remains.” (Gerges, April 30, 2005). Or as professor Fawaz Gerges puts it “...Muslim and Islamic democrats have been trying to Islamize democracy and modernity and strip them of their Western clothing. Although they have come far, the journey is just beginning.” This means that time should be our friend, not our enemy. The main thing is to start this process and make sure to do it right. Fifth, it has to be understood that the democratization process in these Islamic countries will not be easy or cost-free, people will die and dictators will become more brutal Sixth, and finally, if the United States and the West are sincere in there support for liberty and democracy in the Islamic countries then they have to stop supporting dictatorship in these countries and open genuine dialogue with all Islamists who respect the rule of law. The United States and the West must also be ready, and willing, to accept modern and democratic Islamic states. Let me conclude by re-stating that Islam is compatible with democracy, or as Professor Daniel Pipes puts it: "there is nothing in Islam that necessarily contradicts democracy" (Pipes, 2005). There will be no genuine democracy in the Islamic countries without allowing full participation to the Islamists. Marginalizing the Islamized, by limiting their participation, is the wrong approach to ruling the Islamic countries
This paper was presented at the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy’s 7th Annual Conference “The Challenge of Democracy in the Muslim World. Held May 5-7, 2006 in Washington, D.C. It also was published in the "International Journal of Civil Society Law." Volume IV, Issue 3, July 2006.
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