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Tuesday, 1 January 2013
Semih Idiz: Is Islam Compatible With Democracy?

From Hurriyet Daily News:

Semih Idiz

Is Islam compatible with democracy?

Turkey is always highlighted when the question of whether Islam is compatible with democracy comes up. The reason is not hard to understand. For all its deficiencies, Turkey has had a working democracy which has weathered three actual and one “post-modern” military coup.

The fact that the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the 2002 general elections and went on to increase its support base in three successive elections is taken as proof that Islam and democracy are compatible. But these electoral victories happened in a Turkey whose system of government is staunchly secular, despite the country’s predominantly Islamic population.

The fact that the AKP emerged under this system is no proof in itself that Islam is compatible with democracy. What will really determine the truth or falsity of that contention for Turkey is whether the AKP, with all the political power it has mustered, will respect “democracy” as this form of government is defined by political science.

Unfortunately, for all the talk of introducing “advanced democracy” emanating from the AKP, the jury is still out on that question. To the contrary, there are developments prompting liberal democrats to fear that, far from “advancing,” Turkish democracy is in regression.

The way the government has been trying to impose its ideological outlook on society by means of education, by trying to interfere in lifestyles or family rights, or by subjective definitions of concepts like the freedom of expression or press freedom, feed this concern.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s self-declared antipathy toward the “separation of powers,” despite his attempts at backpedaling after his remarks, has caused a storm, and the ongoing efforts by the AKP to change the parliamentary system into a presidential one – with the president enjoying unencumbered powers – are other developments that fuel suspicions about this party’s real intentions.

Meanwhile, the developments in the Middle East and North Africa have not provided any evidence yet that Islam is compatible with democracy. All the elections in Egypt and Tunisia have spawned so far are governments led by the Muslim Brotherhood which have demonstrated that shariah is their main point of reference.

The manner in which the Egyptian Constitution was exclusively drafted and put to a referendum by Islamists does not bode well for democracy in that country. Media reports that Egypt’s top prosecutor has ordered an investigation into accusations that opposition leaders are inciting an overthrow of the regime, on the other hand, appears to reflect a copycat tendency, inspired by the Ergenekon and “Balyoz” (Sledgehammer) cases in Turkey, designed to silence the opposition.

Neither has Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda, Tunisia’s Muslim Brotherhood offshoot, been inspiring much hope in democrats. He was quoted by saying that Islamist movements would eventually become the reference point throughout the Arab world.

Ghannouchi, who does not have an official position in the government led by his party, but is one of the most influential people in Tunisia, was also quoted recently by Al-Arabiya calling for flogging as punishment for people charged with slander.

His comments reportedly came after a female blogger accused his son-in-law of corruption and of engaging in an affair. It appears civil law is not sufficient for this Islamist who prefers Islamic punishment, thus reflecting a mentality whose logical conclusion is cutting hands for stealing and stoning for adultery.

In addition to all this there is hardly any indication to show that what will come out of Syria once Bashar al-Assad is toppled is democracy. The opposite is more likely. In the final analysis, deeds, not words, will show if Islam is compatible with democracy. So the answer to this question has yet to come.

But the indications are not encouraging for the Arab world, and worrying as far as Turkey is concerned.



Click for Hürriyet Daily News comment guidelines

Robert Ellis

1/1/2013 2:41:43 PM

Prime Minister Erdogan's chief advisor, Ibrahim Kalin, let the cat out of the bag with his keynote speech at the Istanbul Forum in October. Kalin spoke of "a mental gap" between Islam and the West and concluded: "the European model of secular democracy, politics and pluralism seems to have little traction in the Arab and larger Muslim world." As Semih points out, we can already see this in Tunisia and Egypt and now in Turkey.

Richard Dickens

1/1/2013 2:02:25 PM

One-word-answer would do it, Mr Idiz:No! Islam (or any other religion) IS NOT compatible with democracy. If Turks wanna have a democratic country, they should change their mindset, unfortunately. By the way, the mildly islamist Justice and Development Party (Ak Parti) came to power in 2002, not in 1992. Thanks, though.

Rimon Tree

1/1/2013 1:53:15 PM

I believe that this is the wrong question! Any religion is compatible with democracy as long as it keeps a private faith. the question is if POLITICAL Islam is compatible. No, it is certainly NOT like every other monotheistic religion, which is combines with politics into a theocracy. That goes for Christianity (and we had it in Europe for centuries before enlightenment) as well as for Judaism.Whoevetr claims to have the one and only truth is lost for democracy.

Ozgur Erhan

1/1/2013 1:51:47 PM

Great article Semih Bey...but please don't get too courageous. Your readers would miss you. And there is one word missing in this article: Atatürk. I believe that he showed a way to combine modernity, Islam, and democracy. Turks should stick to this tradition.

andrew michael

1/1/2013 12:28:08 PM

NO! Islam is far from compatible with western democracy. In the west we are free thinking democrats whereas in Islamic countries democrasy is quasi.

Pawel Bury

1/1/2013 11:56:12 AM

It's obvious. There is not one single Islamic country in the world with established true democracy. I am talking of course about real western style democracy and not the Turkish way i.e. which holds a Guinness record on imprisoned journalists. On the other hand, it is a matter of the people. I am not convinced that everyone in world deserves democracy. In Islamic countries, religion, culture and education aim to produce subjects and not citizens. Democracy has to be won. It can not be "given".

Blue Dotterel

1/1/2013 11:22:30 AM

The question is "is Sunni Islam compatible with democracy?" Of its own accord, Shia Iran has created its own democracy, albeit with a theocratic oversight. Turkey's democracy was created by a secularist, and Sunni Islamists seem bent on undoing it. Democracy requires an ideological flexibility that is not realizable within rigid ideological parameters, whether religious or economic. This is why democratic secularism is under attack today throughout the world, not just in Turkey.

The Prisoner

1/1/2013 10:20:51 AM

One word - NO!

ilker avni

1/1/2013 4:52:48 AM

A very good article Mr Idiz.Demorcracy and Islam cannot coer exsit togeather,Islam does not do Demorcracy show me where it says or mention,s Demorcracy in the Koran.Mr Idiz is right to be worried where Turkey is heading with its Muslim brotherhood spreading across the ME,that means Sharia Law.Which will be seen as a threat to the Western system,another reason why Turkeys EU membership will never happen, and should not happen, if it adopts Sharia Law..

Tevfik Alp

1/1/2013 3:31:28 AM

Forget about the compatibility with democracy, how may islam countries can you show with the advanced in technology, medicine, fine arts, music and harmonized social living with equal rights on both sexes.

Posted on 01/01/2013 1:19 PM by Hugh Fitzgerald
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