Reassessing Democratization and Liberalization in Islamdom

Democracy was tried in Egypt after the downfall of former president Hosni Mubarak and over 60% of Egyptian voters cast their lot with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists. The choice was clear. The Egyptian people voted against liberal democracy in favor of theocracy. So the experiment failed and a year later was the Egyptian military wise enough to end this tragically failed experiment. The conclusion must be clear. Egypt is not ready for liberal democracy although this could well change in the future as the Islamists may well lose their popular appeal. But for now liberal democracy is not an option. The same is true for Turkey and many other Muslim countries that are currently simply incapable of liberal democracy due to the majority of voters supporting anti-democrats. 

Decades of Islamist and Jihadist brainwashing in Saudi Arabia has created a population that would probably overwhelmingly vote for Islamists were Saudi Arabia to introduce liberal democracy. Yet the liberalization policies of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud should be lauded as important and groundbreaking and in particular regarding the significant advancement of the status of women in Saudi Arabia. The fact that democratization in the kingdom remains unfeasible due to overwhelmingly Islamist public opinion does not preclude liberalization. The Saudi example of successful incremental liberalization in a non-democracy is important as it proves that liberalization is still feasible where democratization is not.

The United States government and the European Union need to take a more nuanced approach to the question of human rights and democratization in Islamdom in assessing each country individually whether democratization is feasible or not. Where democratization is not feasible – due to the majority of the public supporting Islamists – should liberalization only be promoted instead of combined democratization and liberalization, with emphasis in particular on women’s rights and LGBTQI rights.

Yet the example of Tunisia shows that democratization is feasible in many Muslim countries where it should certainly be promoted and supported by nations that are established liberal democracies such as the EU and the US. 

In countries like Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia where democratization is unfeasible due to majority public support for anti-democrats should liberalization be promoted also as a means for in the long term making democratization feasible as well. 

There are reported to be as many as 60 000 political prisoners in Egyptian jails. Most of them are Islamists but some are liberal democrats who are deemed dangerous by the government because they could organize another revolution which in turn could once more potentially bring Islamists to power. The US government should ask President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to offer conditional release to liberal democratic political prisoners provided that they emigrate to the US and renounce Egyptian citizenship. The United States should enact the same humanitarian immigration policy with regard to liberal democratic political prisoners in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries that are not yet ready for liberal democracy due to the majority of the electorate sympathizing with Islamist totalitarians. 

The US rivalry with China must not lead the US to neglect Islamdom or reject staunchly Anti-Islamist US allies like President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud. It should be noted that both leaders are devout Muslims who do not appreciate Islamists and Jihadists hijacking and distorting their religion for totalitarian political purposes. The ongoing global Cold War with Islamism and Jihadism has not receded and will probably go on for decades until Islamism loses its appeal in the Muslim world. As with Communism before it are Islamism and Jihadism likely to eventually become discredited due advancing societal liberalization among Muslims no less than among non-Muslims. 

However, it is essential that the US, the EU and other established liberal democracies make the essential distinction between countries where the majority of the public support anti-democrats and where liberal democracy therefore is not yet feasible but liberalization is and countries where in contrast prospects in society are favorable to the introduction of liberal democracy.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization

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