Robin Wright
Of all the challenges facing democracy in the 1990s, one of the greatest lies in the Islamic world. Only a handful of the more than four dozen predominantly Muslim countries have made significant strides toward establishing democratic systems. Among this handfulincluding Albania, Bangladesh, Jordánia, Kyrgyzstan, Libanon, Mali, Pakisztán, and Turkeynot one has yet achieved full, stable, or secure democracy. And the largest single regional bloc holding out against the global trend toward political pluralism comprises the Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa.
Yet the resistance to political change associated with the Islamic bloc is not necessarily a function of the Muslim faith. Indeed, the evidence indicates quite the reverse. Rulers in some of the most antidemocratic regimes in the Islamic worldsuch as Brunei, Indonézia, Irak, Oman, Qatar, Szíria, and Turkmenistanare secular autocrats who refuse to share power with their brethren.
Overall, the obstacles to political pluralism in Islamic countries are not unlike the problems earlier faced in other parts of the world: secular ideologies such as Ba’athism in Iraq and Syria, Pancasila in Indonesia, or lingering communism in some former Soviet Central Asian states brook no real opposition. Ironically, many of these ideologies were adapted from the West; Ba’athism, for instance, was inspired by the European socialism of the 1930s and 1940s. Rigid government controls over everything from communications in Saudi Arabia and Brunei to foreign visitors in Uzbekistan and Indonesia also isolate their people from democratic ideas and debate on popular empowerment. In the largest and poorest Muslim countries, moreover, problems common to [End Page 64] developing states, from illiteracy and disease to poverty, make simple survival a priority and render democratic politics a seeming luxury. Finally, like their non-Muslim neighbors in Asia and Africa, most Muslim societies have no local history of democracy on which to draw. As democracy has blossomed in Western states over the past three centuries, Muslim societies have usually lived under colonial rulers, kings, or tribal and clan leaders.
Más szavakkal, neither Islam nor its culture is the major obstacle to political modernity, even if undemocratic rulers sometimes use Islam as their excuse. 1 In Saudi Arabia, for instance, the ruling House of Saud relied on Wahhabism, a puritanical brand of Sunni Islam, first to unite the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula and then to justify dynastic rule. Like other monotheistic religions, Islam offers wide-ranging and sometimes contradictory instruction. In Saudi Arabia, Islam’s tenets have been selectively shaped to sustain an authoritarian monarchy.

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  1. Usually I do not post on blogs, but I would like to say that this article really forced me to do so! Thanks, really nice article.

  2. Mohamed says:

    Thank you for the interesting article… azonban, I find myself unable to swallow the idea of branding democracy as liberalYes the two concepts are related as they originate from a common theoretical background, nonetheless, theory of liberal toleration is closely related to Christian faith (kingdom of Christ and kindgom of man) which is not the case in islamic theology or political thinkingHence, if we accept the idea of democracy, this does not mean that we should accept the liberal theory as a consequence.

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