Kupchan on Democracy in the Middle East
In an opinion piece for the New York Times titled "Be Careful What You Wish For" (February 24, 2011), Charles Kupchan offers a cautious reminder on euphoria concerning the revolutions sweeping the Arab world:
Western observers and policy makers had better stop operating under the illusion that the spread of democracy to the Middle East also means the spread of Western values.Actually, a number of commenters have made this point, but the point is worth making again, and Kupchan expresses succinctly the civilizational difference and historical development that account for his caution:
In the West, modernity has meant the separation of church and state. Christianity is a religion of faith, not law; its outsized influence on European politics during the medieval era stemmed from a longstanding alliance between secular rulers and the Catholic Church. After the Protestant Reformation, politics in the West took a secular turn that only deepened with the arrival of democracy.More democracy in the Gaza strip, for instance, has brought the Islamist movement Hamas to power, and democratic elections in the 1990s would have brought Islamists to power in Algeria if the military there had not intervened. Consequently:
In contrast, Islam is a religion of faith and law, in which there is no separation between the sacred and the secular. Beginning soon after the birth of Islam in the 7th century, state and mosque became inextricably bound.
This track record makes clear that the more democratic the Middle East becomes, the greater the role that Islam -- even if a moderate brand -- will play in its politics. This outcome is neither good nor bad; it is simply a reality in a part of the world where politics and religion are intertwined.Neither good nor bad? I wouldn't put the point quite like that myself. The democratic outcome can be tolerable, if moderate Islam plays a moderate role, although a clear separation of mosque and state would be better, but relations with the governments that arise can be very bad if serious Islamists take power with an intent to impose shariah domestically and to offer hostility in foreign policy. Recall Iran in 1979.
Current signs are that these democratic revolutions may play themselves out differently in different countries. Tunisia might get a secular government like in the West. Egypt might get an Islamist Muslim Brotherhood hankering to be like Gaza's Hamas. Libya might get the tribal chaos reminiscent of Somalia. And I won't even try to imagine any 'mighty' eventualities elsewhere.
Not that my imagination isn't working . . .