Democracy and Islamism

Democracy and Islamism  



Democracy and Islamism

Democracy and Islamism are critical issues in the political arena of Arab politics. Democracy has become a prominent issue that western countries such as United States have tried to implement in countries such as Iraq while different people within these countries have contradictory views. Several Arab countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan have experimented with democracy as a political reform. The reforms are a move to transition from authoritarian rules to whole democracies. This has been met by different views especially from Islamic regimes that favor governments established on Islamic religious principles. According to Tessler and Brand, “New Muslim cultural associations, study groups, welfare organizations, and financial institutions have emerged, accompanied by a sharp increase in such expressions of personal piety as mosque attendance, public prayer, and veiling,” (1). Such groups have also had a significant influence in the political realm of Iraq. Most of the groups believe that Islam is the answer to political issues. With such beliefs, the main concern is whether democracy can be achieved in Iraq amidst Islamic principles enshrined in many of the local customs and practices.

            The United States is one of the western countries pushing for the establishment of stable democratic governments in Iraq and other countries. It has fought a long war in Iraq with the main objective of establishing a stable democratic government after the authoritarian rule of Saddam. However, establishment of democracy in Iraq remains hotly debated. The debate revolves around the relationship between democracy and Islam. Western countries such as United States hold a view that Islamism undermines democracy since it advocates for intellectual conformity and acceptance of established authority. More so, it is said to vest power in God, whom they consider the source of political authority as well as law from which rules and regulations should come. Contrary to this view, Islam leader assert that Islam is multi faceted and not an enemy to democracy (Tessler and Brand 2).

            It is worth here to define democracy in order to have a deeper understanding of the issue. Democracy is not just holding an election. Rather, it is allowing leaders to compete for power through earning the trust and confidence of voters. Additionally, democracy is a system that gives individuals the right to be heard irrespective of their comments. On the other hand, Islamic principles advocate for a government that adheres to religion. The rules and regulations are derived from interpretations of the holy book, Quran. Islamism requires all people to follow the religious beliefs without question including dressing and prayer among other things.

During the United States occupation in Iraq, several efforts were made to establish a democratic government. However, these efforts did not bear the expected results considering that Islam resurgence groups have been established after the occupation. The United States appointed leaders to the municipal governments to head government operations but failed to allow the locals to elect their leaders from the start. This has seen many leaders create military groups for protection. Instead of leaders rallying for support from citizens, they rally for military support, which is the exact opposite of a democratic government. This makes it even harder to establish a democratic government in Iraq.

            As aforementioned, Islamic groups support a religious government while democracy generally supports a secular government. The main question is whether there is an inherent contradiction between democracy and religious government. I find the contradiction to be quite eminent considering that religious governments support certain beliefs and rules. Particularly, religious governments in Islamic countries support the Sharia law. The insurgency groups further require that all citizens follow the laws and regulations established according to interpretations of Islam. A government that does not allow criticism does not support democracy. One of the fundamental principles of democracy is that individuals have a right to make their own decision concerning their life, which includes the right to differ as well as dissent. The notion that freedom is doing what the majority regards as right undermines minority views.

Although democracy allows the majority to have their way, it allows minority to have their say as well as make their decision. Contrary to this is the fundamental principle of Islam, which holds that individuals must give up freedom for the sake of remaining in solidarity and unity. This does not allow people to be free when it comes to making decisions. Although Islam does not entirely remove freedom and independence, it establishes strict boundaries that require people to give up much of their freedom of individualism such as dissenting, criticizing the government and failing to follow the religious beliefs. This contradiction makes it hard for people to have their freedom. Religion should be the free will of a person. Instead, a religious government undermines the rights of selecting religion. Thus, the right relationship between government and religion is where each is independent. People should be free to choose what they want to believe while the government should seek to provide services to all citizens irrespective of difference. A religious government does not allow diversity of religion.

In order for democracy to thrive in any country, the most necessary precondition is that the locals are ready to embrace it. When citizens of a country are not ready or hold strong values to religious beliefs that have some contradiction with democracy, it becomes no use to establish a democratic government. After elimination of the authoritarian government in Iraq, many thought it would be easy to establish a democratic government. However, this is not the case. Democracy is a government for the people, created by the people. When the force of democracy comes from external forces instead of internal, it becomes almost impossible to establish democracy. Another precondition is liberalism. Without liberalism, it becomes increasingly difficult to change people’s views. This poses a greater difficulty in achieving a transition into a democratic government. Iraq does not have these preconditions considering that the majority of leaders advocate a democracy enshrined in Islam, which has proven hard to achieve.

Some of the impediments to democracy in Middle East come from economic and cultural backgrounds (Weiffen 354). The economic backbone of this area is oil while the cultural background is enshrined in Muslim religion. When these two are combined, democracy becomes hard to achieve. Many leaders seek to protect the wealth of the nation and feel that democratization would compromise the economic structure. On the other hand, the cultural background, Islam, is extremely strict based on its religious ideals. It is also resistant to changes, which makes democratization even harder since monumental change is required. Tessler and Brand affirm that the current Arab world has been shaped by, “… a deep dissatisfaction among ordinary citizens with established patterns of governance and prevailing political and economic relationships,” (3). They further note that this dissatisfaction is the main fuel driving Islamic resurgence in which people believe will bring order and political solution. With ordinary citizens that make up the majority supporting the Islamic resurgence, democratization becomes almost impossible to achieve.   

It is likely that even in a democratic election where citizens vote in their leaders, Islamic resurgence groups might win. This is because the majority of ordinary citizens has lost faith in the current patterns that for a long time have not solved political and economic issues. If Islamist groups win the majority of the votes in a free, fair and competitive election, it would only indicate the will of the citizens (Weiffen 354). Democracy demands that the majority should have their way. Although Islamist groups pose a serious threat to democracy, the will of the majority cannot be undermined. Even if the party were not permitted to rule a country, denying them their rightful win would pose even greater problems to the country considering some of these groups are ready to engage in war. Therefore, it would only be fair to allow the Islamist groups to govern since stopping them would mean undermining the rights of people to select leaders of their choice.

Many people especially from the western countries argue that such groups, especially ones that are ready to pick up arms to have their way, should not be allowed participation in open elections. According to Tessler and Brand, “… the real danger to democracy lies in banning Muslim Political groups, not allowing them to participate in an open and competitive political process,” (2). It should be considered that the country belongs to the citizens, and only they have a right to decide who should govern. Therefore, foreigners have no right to stop them. Further, preventing them from participating in a free election would mean undermining democracy. If people elect Islamist groups, it means they are ready to accept the strict rule and laws established under their regime.

Additionally, when such groups come to power through election, it means the people are voting for their principles. People who support such groups are aware of the strict measures advocated. Electing such groups means support for legislation consistent with interpretations of Islam. Therefore, once an Islamist group is elected to power in an open election, it has the right to implement its legislation in accordance with their principles. Refusing them this right would be stopping the will of the people who put them to power.

In conclusion, it is clear that establishing a democratic government in Iraq would be quite hard without the full support from the citizens. The cultural and economic background relationship stopping Muslims from embracing democracy is the main impediment to democracy (Weiffen 362). Even after the previous authoritarian rule was eliminated during the United States occupation in Iraq, democracy is far from being realized. Therefore, with lack of support from the citizens, which is the main precondition to democratization it is not possible to establish a democratic government in Iraq.   

Work cited

Weiffen Brigitte. “The Cultural-Economic Syndrome: Impediments to Democracy in the Middle East.” Comparative Sociology, 3.4, (2004): 353-375. Print.

Tessler, Mark and Laurie Brand. Democracy and Islam in Arab Politics. Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, 2011. Print.

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