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Islam Between Extremes: Iran, Turkey and Muslim Democracy in the Middle East

Islam Between Extremes: Iran, Turkey and Muslim Democracy in the Middle East

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This essay tests the hypothesis that Islam is the cause of non-democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. It considers the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey – two countries that appear to support the view that Islam and democracy are incompatible. However, a more thorough investigation reveals little or no correlation between this religion and non-democracy.
This essay tests the hypothesis that Islam is the cause of non-democracy in the Middle East and North Africa. It considers the Islamic Republic of Iran and Turkey – two countries that appear to support the view that Islam and democracy are incompatible. However, a more thorough investigation reveals little or no correlation between this religion and non-democracy.

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Sep 01, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
Marie O’ReillyTransition Politics Essay 2
Islam between extremes:Iran, Turkey and Muslim Democracy in the Middle East
03/04/2007
 
1
Islam between extremes:Iran, Turkey and Muslim Democracy in the Middle East
In his 1991 book 
The Third Wave
, Samuel Huntington maintains that, “Islamicconcepts of politics differ from and contradict the premises of democratic politics”(Huntington 1991, 307). While admitting that some elements of Islam may well becompatible with democracy, his emphasis lies on the obstacles that Islam poses todemocratic values in reality: “Whatever the compatibility of Islam and democracy intheory, in practice they have not gone together” (Huntington 1991, 308). Five yearslater, Huntington painted an even bleaker picture for democracy in Islamic countriesin
The Clash of Civilizations
. The persistence of authoritarianism in the IslamicMiddle East and North Africa does seem to support this view. In fact, as Huntingtonrightly states, only two of the thirty-seven majority-Muslim countries in the worldwere rated “free” by Freedom House between 1981 and 1990 (Huntington 1991, 308).The view that democracy and Islam are simply incompatible is expressed moredirectly by others, such as Elie Kedourie who states that conceptions that are centralto democracy are alien to the Muslim political tradition (Kedourie 1994, 5-6), andJames Kurth, who suggests that Muslim political systems need an authoritarianLeviathan to maintain order (Kurth 2005, 320).Furthermore, many Muslim activists themselves reject democracy asincongruent with Islam’s teachings. In Islam, the secular and the spiritual are notseparate realms; only God’s will is sovereign. Thus, the people cannot rule overthemselves, it is the rule of God that should be implemented under the shari’a (Islamiclaw). Some western scholars also use these arguments to support their view that Islamis authoritarian by nature.In testing the hypothesis that Islam is a cause of the continuing non-democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, it may be useful to consider an
 
2Islamic Republic in this area, namely Iran, and a (partial) parliamentary democracy,Turkey. At first glance, both of these countries would appear to support Huntington’sview. Turkey’s relative successes in democratizing, in his view, are precisely because“Islamic concepts of society and politics” were “explicitly rejected” when the statewas founded in 1923 (Huntington 1991, 307). Nevertheless, Huntington seemssceptical that democracy could be successfully consolidated in Turkey. On the otherhand, Iran’s Islamic Republic embodies both divine legitimacy and increasingauthoritarianism, seeming to suggest the causal relationship outlined above. Can amore thorough investigation reveal that the spectre of Islam is not to blame?While the above-mentioned scholars emphasise the role that Islam plays infailures to democratize, there is a diverse range of literature that suggests the contrary.Firstly, Sisk (1992) shows that many different interpretations are possible whenconsidering Islam’s compatibility with democracy. Bellin (2004) suggests that it is therobustness of the coercive apparatus that is the major obstacle to democratization inthe Middle East. Tepe (2005) investigates whether Turkey’s governing party may, infact, be a model for Muslim democracy. Boroumond (2005) points out that riggedelections in Iran do not necessarily represent the will of the population, and Tesslerand Gao (2005) suggest that there is, in fact, widespread support for democracyamong neighbouring Muslim countries. Finally, Stepan and Robertson (2003) showthat perceived electoral gaps in the Muslim world are fallacious and that there is littleor no correlation between Islam as a religion and non-democracy.
The secular and the divine: Turkey and Iran
Turkey and Iran represent differing Islamic sects with their respective Sunniand Shia majorities. Furthermore, they are Turkic and Persian respectively, unlike

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