the globe by faith, it appears that among the nearly 50 Muslim-majority states
globally, only five (Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Senegal and Sierra Leone)
meet the two common norms for being called electoral democracies: the last two
elections were fair and unelected entities don’t have formal veto powers over
the elected regimes.
A few flirt
with these norms, ie, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Albania and Bosnia. No
Muslim state is a well-ruled democracy that ensures civil liberties. About half
are misruled autocracies. The status is better among other faiths. Among the
100-plus Christian-majority states, around 70 are electoral democracies. Among
10 Buddhist majority-states, half are; and among three Hindu-dominant states,
India and Mauritius have regular free polls. Israel, the only Jewish state, is
a democracy. Among the four to five states where non-believers are the largest
group, about half are advanced democracies.
figures inspire Islamophobes to argue that Islamic edicts discourage democracy.
When I analyse social issues as a social scientist, I only use agnostic lenses.
But even such lenses show that such Islamophobic logic is vague and fails to
compare a specific set of core edicts properly with similar beliefs in other
faiths. Actually, it could be argued more lucidly that Islam perhaps is the
only faith whose early history (of the Medina state) provides a strong case of
early democracy in practice.
were chosen with consensus and on merit, and they ruled fairly accountably when
other major states then had autocracies. Early rulers linked with other
religions were dynastic kings. Clearly, the Medina state existing many
centuries ago differed much from today’s democracy. But today’s democracy
differs much from even modern Western democracy a mere 150 years ago, which had
colonialism, women’s non-suffrage, slavery etc.
is contemporary factors that explain the current major democratic deficit in
Muslim states. Regional analysis reveals that these factors undermine democracy
not only in many Muslim but also many non-Muslim regional states. In East Asia,
Indonesia and Malaysia are electoral democracies while only Brunei is an
autocracy among Muslim states. Many more non-Muslim East Asian states are
autocratic, eg, China, North Korea, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. In the
ex-Soviet bloc, the six Muslim STANs (Kazakhastan, Uzbekistan etc.) are
non-democratic but so are Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. South Asia’s four
stronger democracies include Bangladesh and Pakistan while its four laggard
democracies include two non-Muslim states. A similarly mixed picture is found
in Africa. The Middle East is almost entirely Muslim, and an intra-regional
comparison is not possible with non-Muslim states there. Thus, outside the
highly developed Western and East Asian states, the frequency of democracy
across states of various faiths is more even.
closely at Muslim states today, one hardly finds religious edicts influencing
the thoughts and decisions of elites either way about the nature of the
political systems anywhere, except Iran. Elsewhere, eg, Saudi Arabia and
Brunei, they are used as facades to justify corrupt autocracies. Several
secular factors also undermine democracy in Muslim and other regional
non-Muslim states. In the Middle East, US support helps keep secular autocrats
in power as earlier in East Asia. The ambitions of politicised army generals,
almost all secular, have kept democracy in check in other Muslim states as
earlier in non-Muslim Latin America. In many small African states with few
competitor power bases, both Muslim and non-
autocrats are able to survive for decades. Democracy also fails to thrive in
natural resource-based rentier states, eg, Muslim Gulf states and non-Muslim
does not appear to be a single, faith-based explanation for the current Muslim
democratic deficit. Instead, there are multiple contemporary factors at play in
different regions. It is true that linked fundamentalist movements are much
more powerful in Muslim rather than non-Muslim states today. Such movements,
which first became strong a few decades ago, today have a presence in over half
the Muslim world. However, the trend towards democratisation has actually
increased in the ummah in these decades despite the rise of fundamentalism.
Even Iran, the only Muslim state run by clerics, became a bit more democratic
after its Islamic revolution.
and Buddhist states, which were once called unripe for democracy due to
faith-based issues, have eventually moved towards democracy. It is a matter of
time before the same happens within the Ummah as citizens’ movements thrive.
Murtaza is a Senior Fellow with UC Berkeley and heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a
progressive policy unit.
Headline: Ummah & democracy
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan