Prospects of Democratization in MENA

An Islamic Democracy 

Political scientists describe the 21st century ideological shift of the Middle East and Northern Africa region (MENA) as a “relative change towards democracy.” This can be attributed to a few things. First, western (American) influence in MENA has largely been resisted by indigenous Arab’s due to western discontent towards the region. Second, the cultural influence of Islam is not agreed upon by contemporary scholars, as MENA countries do not have solely Muslim populations. The effect that the Islamic religion has on the emergence of democracy is skeptical at best.  

When examined, the region’s newly formed democracies are fraught with issues. Lebanon’s mass protests and governmental negotiations, Tunisia’s free and fair elections, and Iraq’s (outside) controlled elections. This is where the problem lies. There is no correlation between Islam and democracy. Countries particularly in this region often exhibit unexpected combinations of some form of democracy and authoritarianism. Democratization is a process that stalls and starts.  

Outside sources are the only examples of realworld democracies individuals in the MENA region have to emulate. The existing democracies such as the U.S., the U.K, Germany, etc – are all existing democracies that MENA can use as a reference for their own regimes. Information about the Arab world from the World Values survey indicates that although MENA states may be hesitant to embrace westernization, they value democracy much more than citizens of actual democracies do.  

The chart here illustrates the increased favor democracy has with MENA states since the Arab Springs

 In order for democratization to be successful, it must occur intrinsically within society. This is why Iraq’s American-funded reconstruction has largely been a disaster. The defining characteristic of democracy in the Islamic World is that it will look drastically different from western democracy. Therefore, as Lisa Anderson asserts, concepts of political science do not always apply universally. Democratic regimes in MENA must emerge based upon the exceptionality of each individual state’s needs, resources, and social values. 

Drew Stern 

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