Democracy and Islam

Democracy and Islam

Is democracy incompatible with Islam? Some Islamists think so, and so do some democrats.


In Egypt there’s clearly a huge demand for democracy, but that democracy seems to lead towards the Islamic parties – some of them of an extreme hue. One is reminded that democracy can often produce tyranny. One example is Nazi Germany. Hitler and the Nazi party were elected democratically. As soon as Hitler came to power, he started to send to the concentration camps members of opposition parties who would not conform. In no time at all, he’d established a completely one-party state, with himself as dictator. There were no more general elections. The possibility that he would do that was well in front of the German electorate when they voted him in, but nevertheless they elected him. Having done so, even if there had been a massive popular groundswell of opinion to get rid of him, they couldn’t have. It took a world war to do it.


Another example is Zimbabwe. Zanu PF was voted in. As soon as Robert Mugabe came to power, he began explicitly and openly to create a one-party state. There were even suggestions (and, as I recall, few Europeans contradicted him at the time) that the one-party state was the ideal model for Africa. Decades of poverty and oppression later, we all know better.






So there’s nothing anti-democratic about electing a Mugabe, an Islamist or even a Hitler – on one condition, rarely met: that we can get rid of him again, and that he’ll bow to the popular will, expressed secretly and fairly in another vote. Think of the politician or political party you like best and then suppose they can never, ever be removed – so that eventually they can do whatever they like without restraint: what a horrific thought!


Islamic parties tend to be theocratic. In other words, they believe that God provides all the answers to government, and that it follows that they – the Islamic party – should govern alone. They regard the opposite view as blasphemy. In other words, there’s always the possibility that the democratic process will lead ultimately to a tyrannical, theocratic state like Iran.


The real test of democracy is whether whatever we vote for can be undone. If we get fed up with the government we have (even though we elected it in the first place), can we dismiss it at the next election, and will they allow themselves to be dismissed? An implacable determination on the part of any given party to resist all attempts to remove them is the antithesis of democracy. Nothing will be known for sure about the quality of the democracy brought about by the Arab Spring until the first government they elect is democratically removed again. Indeed, perhaps before we can truly say a country is a democratic state, governments have to have been peacefully voted out several times over.