Egypt presents an awkward moment: Does the U.S. really favor democracy?

REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Hundreds of thousands of supporters and opponents of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi gathered in Tahrir square in Cairo on Sunday.

First of two articles.

What is democracy? Does America favor it? What just happened in Egypt? Is there something incompatible about Islam and democracy? If so, is Turkey the exception that proves the rule, or perhaps disproves the rule? And if not, is David Brooks a bigot for suggesting that some shortcoming in the mental abilities of Muslims makes them unfit for democracy?

Except maybe for the last one, these are pretty profound questions, way above my pay grade. And yet, the current chaos in Egypt raises them all and various assertions about these deep democracy questions are being made all over the airwaves and beyond without much serious challenge. After stewing about them, reading about them, interviewing about them, herewith — in a short series of today and Tuesday — a few thoughts backed by a few facts.

Democracy is a form of government, fairly rare in the Mideast, in which the government gains the consent of the governed through free and fair elections. It’s sometimes called majority rule with minority rights, which sounds pretty good but raises a bunch more questions. One category of questions revolves around the many ways of assembling electoral majorities (and many systems, including the U.S. system, do not require a majority vote to hold high office, including the presidency). Another category of deep democracy questions starts with absence of any one definitive list of minority rights that must be respected, or how they are to be preserved against a determined majority.

Americans are justifiably proud but also perhaps occasionally a bit arrogant about the long-running success we have had with maintaining democracy at home. Despite some bumps and blotches and the many imperfections of our system, we have had two and a quarter centuries of regular elections, just one Civil War and no coups d’etat (even the fictional one, in “Seven Days in May,” was foiled because Kirk Douglas realized that his loyalty to the commander-in-chief outweighed his loyalty to his disloyal commanding officer.) We sometimes call ourselves the arsenal of democracy and tend to exaggerate the credit we deserve for the huge expansion of democracy around the world since we established ours.

We have played a role in bringing democracy to many nations, but we tend not to boast so much about the many instances in which the United States has overthrown democracies abroad when the citizens of other countries elected leaders we didn’t like. Our general talking point is that we are the friend and ally of all those around the world who seek to democratize. We even have on the books a law that requires a cutoff of U.S. aid to any nation in which a coup d’etat overthrows an elected government.

That is awkward at the moment because the Egyptian military just overthrew the elected government led by Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, but the Obama Administration is loath to follow through on the cutoff of aid. It is, of course, possible to construe the coup d’etat in Egypt as something other than a coup for purposes of that law. Among the principles for which the United States purports to stand is the “rule of law,” but it is very handy to reserve the ability to reconstrue a word in a law that might otherwise be too constricting on a democracy- and rule-of-law-loving nation.

Democracy in principle

Personally, in answer to one of the questions I asked myself at the top of this post, I would say that historically the United States has strongly favored democracy in principle but not always in practice and seldom put its pro-democracy impulses ahead of its desire to see areas in which we have “vital interests” (most of the world, and definitely including Egypt) run by people with whom we enjoy cooperative relations.

The United States has a long-standing cooperative relationship with the Egyptian military, and the U.S. had a long cooperative relationship with President Hosni Mubarak, notwithstanding Mubarak’s lack of democratic credentials.

In general, the United States has been unenthusiastic about what are often called “Islamist” political parties, which promise, if elected, to be guided by Muslim religious principles and perhaps even impose Islamic religious law (“Sharia law, rooted in the 8th century”) on the nation. (I say “in general” because of such notable exceptions as Saudi Arabia, which imposes an extremely strict version of Sharia on its population, but which has enjoyed mutually beneficial relationship with the United States — and especially the U.S. oil industry — since 1945.)

The United States was nervous about the 2012 electoral victory of  Muslim Brotherhood candidate Morsi, notwithstanding the fact that Morsi received a majority vote mandate in what was the closest Egypt has ever come to a free and fair election.

(I note that Morsi’s election is being described as free and fair. The efforts of those who want to justify the coup by suggesting that Morsi shouldn’t have won have relied on the argument that the reformist camp botched the deal by fielding too many candidates, which resulted in the final runoff being between Morsi and Mubarak crony. There’s truth in this, but it doesn’t really undermine the legitimacy of the election. More troubling — but for some reason not mentioned much last week — is that the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission disqualified 10 of the 23 original field of candidates without divulging the criteria they used. In fact, Morsi was not originally his party’s candidate but was put on the ballot after his party’s better-known first choice was disqualified by the commission.)

Let that last bit stand for the proposition that it’s tough to really grasp the free/fairness of other people’s election without knowing the full background, the totality of the circumstances and the details of the system (relatively few Americans probably grasp the full complex workings of the Electoral College system or the — recently revised — Voting Rights Act.)

Free and fair election

We can get hung up on these vagaries of the 2012 Morsi election or we can focus on the clear fact that this was the freest and fairest election in Egyptian history, considering that Morsi’s predecessors generally didn’t allow anyone to run against them at all.

It’s possible, if the reformists had gotten their act together, one of them would have been elected and (without pausing too long to consider what we mean by “reformist” but acknowledging that we like the sound of the word) that Egypt might have evolved in the direction of a stable democracy, setting a wonderful example for other Arab states.(Egypt is the biggest Arab state and one of several that sometimes asserts its leadership of the Arab world).

But that didn’t happen. Instead, Egypt got Morsi, who got mixed and often negative reviews over the course of his first year. It’s not clear how much of the spark for the mass demonstrations demanding the removal of Morsi were about neither democracy nor religious freedom but about the continuing poor performance of the Egyptian economy. Various Morsi alleged failures and alleged deviations from proper democratic conduct are now being cited, mostly to justify the demonstrators who took to the street demanding his removal and the decision of the military to oust him. But as I try to nail down some of those alleged deviations, the plot thickens.

For example, Morsi at one point during his year in office rejected the power of the judicial branch to rule on the legality of his decrees. This is cited as evidence of his lack of respect for democratic norms. If that’s all you know, it seems like a good case. But the judges who were preparing to overrule some of Morsi’s decrees were holdovers from Mubarak’s regime. What kind of democratic legitimacy did they have over Morsi who, whatever else, had just been elected? The judges had already dismissed the parliament (which was dominated by Islamists) and were rumored to be preparing to dismiss the (also Islamist-led) special assembly that was supposed to draft a new constitution. What kind of constitutional basis did the judges have for that action? And, although Morsi’s statement that the judges had no authority over his decrees is being cited as evidence that he lacked respect for democratic norms, it should be noted that he backed down and acknowledged that the judges had such authority.

I have little sympathy for an Islamist Party or Islamist agenda, just as it troubles me when U.S. legislators rely too heavily on the Old or New Testaments for legal principles that they seek to impose on modern Americans. But to locate the point at which they have exceeded democratic norms and need to be removed from office by some means other than losing their next reelection bid is much more troublesome.

Eventually we have to come to this mind-numbing question: When, if ever, can it be a good thing for the development of any democratic system for the military to take action to remove the elected government?

The subordination of the military to the elected civilian government may not be one of the top three characteristics of a developed democracy, but I would have said it’s pretty high on the list, until I learned of the role military intervention has played in maintenance of democracy in Turkey.

In tomorrow’s installment, more about Turkey and the David Brooks column that stirred up a lot criticism.

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Comments (33)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/08/2013 - 09:38 am.

    What the US favors

    We do favor democracy. But we also favor self determination. And governments that are friendly to our interests. And governments that don’t have a destabilizing effect on their neighbors. All of these things we favor don’t necessarily move in the same direction all the time.

    Something we also need to understand is that American ideas about democracy in general and constitutionalism in particular, are hardly shared universally. We have had 200 years to develop ideas like judicial review and independence, civilian control of the military. Sometimes I wonder if we follow these ideas, not so much because we believe in them, but because we are in a rut. In any event, none of the ideas were fully understood and accepted in the early years of our Republic, and it seems a bit naive to think that any other Republic, especially still in it’s early years, can develop them immediately or resolve them in the same way we did. Maybe they will make better choices than we did.

    • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 07/08/2013 - 03:08 pm.

      200 Years

      I take your point about development time, but 200 years actually understates the time frame. There was a good century of democratic theory before the Revolutionary war in which the learned men of the time thought and argued about how a democratic society *should* work. The culture was ready to try it out.
      I’ll admit ignorance on whether or not writers such as Locke and Rousseau are read anywhere in the Middle East, but they’d be better off for it. They’d even be better off if there were some modern Islamic critical thought on such writers as it would mean they’d grappled with the ideas and problems of democracy. As others have noted, it takes more than free elections to make a democracy. This is some of that other stuff.

  2. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 07/08/2013 - 09:39 am.

    Popular Support

    One more variable to add to the equation is that there seems to be overwhelming public support for the overthrow. In fact, it’s doubtful that the military would have moved in without that support. Which may make this closer to a revolution than a coup.
    I think there are some questions about whether or not certain sects of Islam are compatible with democracy or not. Not all of them, by any means. The vast majority of Muslims in the US seem to be fine with our democratic process, for instance. But the brand that is practiced by the Muslim Brotherhood is too quick to use terror (riots, beating, killings in the streets) to scare people from opposing them. That won’t work in a real democracy.

  3. Submitted by Doug Gray on 07/08/2013 - 10:24 am.

    Imagine…

    …that 18 months into the first Obama administration most people in the U.S. were disappointed that unemployment was still high, the economic stimulus didn’t seem to be helping, we were still fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there was still discrimination and inequality in the U.S., taxes were too high, there was only one car in every garage and one chicken in every pot, it was too hot in July and August, winter extended before December and after March, it rained before sundown, it was foggy after 8 a.m., etc.

    …in response to this mass discontent, the U.S. military rolled the tanks, deposed the President, arrested top leaders of the Democratic Party without charges, installed Chief Justice John Roberts as acting President, and shot people demonstrating peacefully in front of the Pentagon.

    …the reaction of the rest of the world was, “meh.”

    How would you feel about the possibility of democratic change?

  4. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/08/2013 - 10:28 am.

    Muslims and Democracy

    There are far more Muslims living in democratic countries, than there are people in America + Europe combine. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapre. Counties in Middle East where democracies have not flourish can be directly pointed to American propping up of dictators that region. Before we hear about the horribles of countries like Iran, need I point to the CIA overthrow and the resultant brutal regimes of the Shan.

    Egypt under Morsi was no less democratic than many other countries. It just happenned that he opposed the United States. And therefore the labels begin assigned to him. This will have massive blow back. Sadly.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/08/2013 - 11:39 am.

      …India, Pakistan,

      …India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore…

      I will note that all of those countries have on-going struggles related to preventing conservative / radical Islam from gaining dominant political power. In all of those states, the internal security forces have far more influence in the running of the country than we would accept.

      • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/08/2013 - 01:27 pm.

        …does not take away from the fact

        That those countries are plurality based democracies with massive muslim participation. That kinda negates the “muslims are not for democracies” arguments.

        Internal security forces in India, Parkistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia…..hmmmm, thats news to people from the subcontient. In fact those forces are often accused of being too pliant to the ruling party

        • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/08/2013 - 02:15 pm.

          My point was that there are large internal security agencies in those countries that typically seek to limit radical Islam involvement in running the governments. Are you saying there are no such security agencies?

          • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/08/2013 - 03:47 pm.

            The answer is No.

            The ISI in Pakistan is only interested in its own power. Give me an example of an ISI backed coup based on religion.

            For RAW In India do u have any example. I can say quite confidently, your answer is no. They watch millitants, but millitants have no large political following so your question is moot.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/08/2013 - 02:13 pm.

        The United States of America

        I will note that this country has an on-going struggle related to dealing with the efforts of conservative / radical Christianity from gaining dominant political power.

        Given what we have learned about the government’s ongoing surveillance efforts (and the public’s acquiescence in that surveillance), it doesn’t do for Americans to get too smug about the influence of internal security forces.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/08/2013 - 11:01 am.

    Oddly enough, the military is the strongest civic and business interest in Egypt. It is in their interest to have a stable, functioning economy that is welcoming to investment and visitors. The increasingly conservative Islam being preached and practiced works against those interests.

    There is a book that I recently read that provides an analysis of the roots of the current crisis of fundamentalist Islam–“The Closing of the Muslim Mind” by Robert R. Reilly. There was a historical turning point where Islam began a long and deep move from rational thought and analysis to a denial of the validity of rational thought as being opposed to the will of God.

    If, as the book says, everything exists and happens as a result of the continuous will of God, the idea of democracy as a governmental form is an affront to God as it places the will of the people ahead of the will of God. For the same reason, vaccines against polio are an infringement on God’s will as to who lives and who dies and who gets what illnesses. It explains the name of the Islamist group in Africa, “Boko Haram” which means “Western education is sinful”, because to study the laws of science is to deny that God could reinvent the universe instantaneously and change heat to cold and make water run uphill at any moment that God desired, and therefore there are no laws of science.

    That profoundly ant-modern, anti-rationalist thought is a threat to the creation of a modern state. Unfortunately, the tactics of the Egyptian army are not much better. The best thing to be said is that there still is a way forward, but it may be through a holocaust of a civil war, such as is being fought in Syria.

    The religious component of virtually every conflict in the middle east cannot be ignored. Understanding the thought of the factions is of key importance in deciding when and where for us, as an infidel, to inject ourselves. Just as in Iraq and Afghanistan, our aid and military force does not change religious beliefs and religion-based actions.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/08/2013 - 01:18 pm.

      Eisenhower

      Something about a military-industrial complex….

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/08/2013 - 01:30 pm.

      The next book by Robert R. Reilly

      “writing a book on the natural law argument against homosexual marriage for Ignatius Press”. Need we say more about these expert authors who write books based on their biases.

      http://www.crisismagazine.com/author/reilly

      • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/08/2013 - 02:17 pm.

        Well then, what is your explanation for the rise of extreme conservatism / radicalism in Islam?

        • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/08/2013 - 03:50 pm.

          Simple

          Every one else was bought off by the west and were considered by their populace as Western stooges. Like Mubarak, Suharto, Hussein of Jordan.

          • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/08/2013 - 10:25 pm.

            Really?That’s a pretty

            Really?

            That’s a pretty facile reading of a religious trend that has been in play for the last thousand years or so.

            The Wahabbi form of Islam was not invented a decade or so ago in response to western stooges.

            • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/09/2013 - 08:55 am.

              Really

              Facile isn’t it. The only place were wahabbism is prevelant is where it is funded by the Saudis. Anywhere else ? To claim that wahabbism represents all of conservitive Islam is factually incorrect.

              Sunnis and Shias has sprouted radical groups in reaction to the political situations in those specific environments. Just like the Irish reverted to their religion in their fights against Britain.

              You cannot disprove my statement that these religious groups have followings because they are perceived as uncorruptable.

              • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/09/2013 - 09:23 am.

                You’ve got it backwards

                The onus is on the person making a statement to support it; not on the listeners to disprove it. It is very difficult to prove a negative.

                • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/09/2013 - 01:36 pm.

                  It is not a negative assertion

                  I made a positive assertion regarding the role of religous parties in Islam. I atleast attempted to disprove your thesis on Wahabism.

                  • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/09/2013 - 03:28 pm.

                    Making an assertion

                    Does not prove or disprove anything unless it is supported by evidence.

                    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/09/2013 - 04:01 pm.

                      Works both ways

                      However assertions based on biases are easier to disprove.

  6. Submitted by Ken Wedding on 07/08/2013 - 11:11 am.

    Egypt

    It seems to me that two other things complicate the situation and any analysis:

    Electoral mandate — the perception of the mandate by the elected probably (usually? always?) differs from the perception of the mandate by the electors

    Buyers’ remorse — This might be related to the mandate issue, but I heard a couple English speaking Egyptians interviewed who claimed they’d voted for Morsi, but that he had acted more like an Islamist than expected (however, from my distant perspective, it’s difficult to imagine seeing Morsi do much but what he did).

  7. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/08/2013 - 11:26 am.

    Not every lens is distortion-free

    The first four comments present a very interesting spectrum of thought about this.

    I agree with Hiram Foster that we *do* favor democracy, but we also favor those other items he mentioned, and they’re sometimes mutually exclusive. We’ve also had more time to practice — and killed more than half a million of our own people correcting one initial mistake — than most modern societies that decide to give popular government a try. I also think Hiram is on to something in suggesting that we may “favor” these ideas and ways of doing things out of habit rather than commitment. While Democrats are hardly immune — the present administration being a case in point — people who call themselves “conservative” continue to shout loudly about “freedom,” unless it’s freedom to do or say something they don’t like. In those situations, rhetoric about the superiority of “small government” rather quickly disappears, to be replaced by equally strident rhetoric about the necessity of “big government.”

    Peder Defor also seems on to something in suggesting that not every sect of Islam is necessarily supportive of the democratic process. Theocracy and democracy are not compatible at a fundamental level, at least in theory. In practice, that may or may not matter, and there seem to be other quite workable definitions of “democracy” that don’t fit the American stereotype especially well.

    I’m happy to see Raj Maddali chime in, as well. The CIA has not served us well in the Middle East. Not just in the past few years, but almost since the CIA was founded in the waning days of World War II. Among the inconvenient truths that some of our Senators and Representatives in Congress might not like is that democracy might well result in a government that doesn’t much care for the United States. Sometimes, that’s for a very good reason, or a whole list of reasons. I have a hard time believing whatever government Iraq and Afghanistan have in a generation will be friendly to the United States — unless it’s yet another puppet government propped up, as Mr. Maddali suggests, by ill-considered American policy and dollars. No society’s tolerance for “collateral damage” by an outside power is very high.

    Doug Gray’s vignette was interesting, too, and well worth thinking about. I was mildly amazed at the time, and am still surprised, that the election of 2000 didn’t result in something similar, so Doug’s scenario doesn’t strike me as something totally out of the realm of possibility. And, of course, that same election of 2000 could be pointed to as an example of the thinness of our dedication to democracy, since Mr. Gore did, after all, win the popular vote.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/08/2013 - 12:28 pm.

    Seriously?

    First, what do you mean by the “US”? With foreign affairs our government almost never represents the will or desires of the electorate. The American people didn’t want Oliver North building terrorist armies to attack the Sandista’s, and we had to be tricked into believing a war with Iraq was a good idea.

    To be more precise: “Does the US government favor Democracy?” The answer is: “no”. We’ve spent decades supporting dictorships all over the planet as long as they favor American “interests”. Our government always claims to be promoting Democracy but it seldom has in any meaningful way. If a dictator of some kind were feasible in Afghanistan right now, we’d be all over that in a New York minute.

    Technically, we support whatever government supports our interests, but if you line them and make a count you’ll find that our government has spent more time and resources supporting dictators than Democracies.

  9. Submitted by Doug Gray on 07/08/2013 - 12:58 pm.

    Oddly? Not.

    > Oddly enough, the military is the strongest civic and business interest in Egypt.

    Hardly odd, since it has been and is being financed with $1.5 billion a year from the U.S. Treasury.

  10. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/08/2013 - 01:27 pm.

    A basic point

    Free elections do not by themselves define democracy.
    They are a necessary but not sufficient condition.
    Unfortunately, in most nations without a strong European parliamentary tradition, elections are a winner-take-all operation; the election itself may be (relatively) free/fair, but the winning party then assumes that they have a mandate from heaven, and that anything goes.

    Part of this is cultural:
    I’m not aware that the Q’ran has anything equivalent to ‘render unto Caesar’.
    There is no concept of church/state separation, so Sharia is not -religious- law; it is the ONLY law.

    The American Islamic community (at least most of its members) is an exception.
    It is both a small and relatively powerless minority, and well assimilated. I’m not sure that the rest of Islam will follow this lead, although the large Muslim populations in Indonesia and India may be heading in this direction. Let us hope.

    • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/08/2013 - 01:36 pm.

      Simply False, but a nice narrative

      Indonesia the largest muslim country has repeated rejected Sharia as the basis of its Consitution.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_in_Indonesia

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/08/2013 - 02:05 pm.

        Anything simple

        is probably false.
        As I noted, Indonesia is a promising polity in democratic terms, but we are still not that far in time from Sukarno.
        And if you read your Wikipedia link, you will find that at least one Indonesia province IS governed by Sharia, so Indonesia as a country has not rejected religious law in the sense that we have.

  11. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/08/2013 - 03:41 pm.

    One provicnce does not make a country…..

    Aceh province is probably like Alabama where the Ten Commandments is considered legally “secular”.

    Muslim populations in those countries may be religiously more conservative and be willing to accept a restrictive state, but have been far more secular in their outlooks, as evidenced by the outright rejection of the Sharia based constitution that was proposed. There are even Hindu holidays in Indonesia, just as the opposite in largely Hindu India.. Can u name a single non-Judeo/Christian Holiday in Europe or America ?

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/08/2013 - 07:32 pm.

      Hinduism

      is the predominant religion in Bali.
      Name an American state that is not predominantly Christian.
      And once again, the issue of religious law can not even be considered in the United States; it is not a choice as it is in Indonesia.
      As for Alabama, (rogue) Judge Roy Moore did put a copy of the (Protestant version) Ten Commandments in his court room, but was over-ruled and they were removed.
      Unless you can provide some documentation, there is no evidence that religious law has any secular status in Alabama (or in any other state).
      The closest thing to a government established religious holiday in the United States is Christmas, which has (much to the dismay of serious Christians) become secular.
      I can remember celebrating it as a Jewish boy growing up in the Bronx.
      Certainly holidays such as Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day are secular in nature. Even Thanksgiving has lost most of its religious foundation.
      Or were you trying to say that the only religious holidays celebrated in the United States are Christian ones? While we are free to celebrate any religious holiday we want in the United States, the government may not mandate any of them. And certainly Ramedan and Eid are commonly celebrated in the United States (even in the wilds of Mankato, MN), not to mention Solstice.

      • Submitted by Raj Maddali on 07/08/2013 - 09:26 pm.

        There are Muslim holidays in largely Hindu India

        Most Indian states are largely Hindu (except Mizoram – christian) , but there are Muslim holidays. Same goes in Malaysia. There are no Christian majority regions in Indonesia, Yet Christmas is a holiday. . Same for Bangladesh which has hindu holidays.

        These are poor and backward countries, but far from the repressive Sharia that u portray.

        “Or were you trying to say that the only religious holidays celebrated in the United States are Christian ones? ” – Yes. Take a look at the Federal Govt list of holidays.

        http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/snow-dismissal-procedures/federal-holidays/#url=2013

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/09/2013 - 09:26 am.

          The only possibly religious

          holiday that I see in this list is Xmas (and see my comments above).
          The rest are appropriately secular.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/09/2013 - 09:16 am.

    A few observations

    First, a recent Pew Forum Poll found that the majority of Muslims believe Sharia ought to be the law of the land ( in their respective countries). The same poll found tepid at best support for the concept of Democracy amongst Muslims. Of course, opinion amongst Muslims as to what Sharia law is, and to whom it should apply, varies widely. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/timstanley/100214861/poll-of-global-muslims-finds-love-of-sharia-mixed-views-on-suicide-bombings-and-fear-of-islamism/

    In these here parts (the US and Europe) people tend to see Sharia as incompatible with Democracy, but that’s not quite the case. It would be incompatible with a democracy based on a secular constitution, but technically, if the majority of an electorate voted to create a theocratic state of some kind, and maintained representatives through “free and fair” elections, you would have a democracy. I’ve run across this amongst Muslims I’ve had conversations with, read, and listened to. The BBC had a very nice series on Egypt prior to the recent coup. The point is if Democracy is the will of the majority, and if the majority want Sharia, then THAT’S Democracy. Technically they’re NOT mistaken.

    Many Muslims see a Caliphate as a legitimate form of Democracy, and technically it is, it just might not be the kind of Democracy everyone would want to live in. If I’m not mistaken Iran is a form a Caliphate.

    There is some precedent for this in the non Muslim world, Israel for instance has no formal constitution and they also have religious courts. Their main legal system is secular, but religious courts (representing several different religions) have limited jurisdiction over family matters. Israeli law is NOT based on the Talmud however, the Knesset is not a religious body, and does not make law according to scriptural dictates. Israel is considered a Democracy even though it has no formal constitution and grants certain jurisdictions to religious courts.

    My own bias is that non-secular Democracies will be clunky and inherently oppressive to a greater degree secular Democracies. Any Muslim country that attempts to set up a Caliphate will have to define how strict they want Sharia to be enforced and upon whom, this question cannot be expected to ever be settled since populations will be more or less conservative over time. I think it is worth noting that although there is religious and ethnic conflict around the world, Muslims are the only ones currently killing people in efforts to enforce religious law. At least in any significant numbers. From Pakistan to Nigeria you have people being killed for everything from dancing to going to school in violation of Sharia. This clearly doesn’t represent the majority of Muslim belief in Sharia, but the Taliban did manage to set up a very oppressive Muslim state so we know they can emerge. The Pew Center Poll found disturbingly high levels of support for suicide bombing amongst Muslims in certain countries so I don’t think we can assume that a Muslim Theocracy is going to be loaded with personal freedoms.

    On the other hand, who’s business is it? I don’t think the US should be mucking around in other countries government. So what if the Afghan’s set up another Muslim state? As long as they don’t attack people outside of their country what should our response be? I think instead of trying to control or interfere with internal outcomes in other countries we should expand and refine our refugee policies. So for instance if someone sets up a country that kills girls who want to go to school, we should build systems that define those people as oppressed refugees and grant them asylum and assistance. The only expectation we should have of every nation is that they let such people leave their countries if they want to. Instead of putting our resources into covert attempts to change or control governments we should put our resources into getting victims of oppression out of those countries.

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