The relation between the religion of Islam and politics is hot topic that got even hotter after September 11. Sometime ago The Freedom House Organization issued an alarming report about democracy in Muslim countries. The question is: Is it Islam as a religion that is against democracy? or the fact that most of Muslim countries are dictatorships for historical / political reasons and religion is not a direct factor?
Almost all Islamist scholars advocate Islam as a religion of peace and democracy. Some western historians have honored the democratic capacity of Islam as a religion, but as a political practice such an honor usually comes from the Muslims themselves only. The level of democracy in countries with a majority of Muslim citizens does not necessarily represent Islam as a religion, but surely it does represent Islam as a political practice. In a major study released recently, Freedom House concludes that there is a dramatic, expanding gap in the levels of freedom and democracy between Islamic countries and the rest of the world. The study, Freedom in the World 2001-2002, finds that a non-Islamic country is more than three times more likely to be democratic than an Islamic state.
“This freedom and democracy divide exists not only between Islamic countries and the prosperous West,” said Adrian Karatnycky, Freedom House president and coordinator of the survey. “There is a growing chasm between the Islamic community and the rest of world. While most western and non-western countries are moving towards greater levels of freedom, the Islamic world is lagging behind.”
“In the wake of the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, it is imperative that policymakers around the globe give serious attention to the democracy gap in the Islamic world,” said Freedom House chairman Bill Richardson.
In the organization’s annual survey, 86 countries representing 2.54 billion people (or 41.4 percent of the world’s population) receive a rating of Free. Their inhabitants enjoy a broad range of rights. Fifty-eight countries representing 1.43 billion people (23.25 percent) are considered Partly Free. Political rights and civil liberties are more limited in these countries, in which corruption, dominant ruling parties, and, in some cases, ethnic or religious strife are often the norm. The survey finds that 48 countries representing 2.17 billion people (35.35 percent) fall into the Not Free category. Inhabitants of these countries are denied basic political rights and civil liberties.
This year’s study yielded mixed results. Seventeen countries registered significant gains in freedom, while another 17 registered setbacks in political rights and civil liberties. One country, Peru, moved from Partly Free to Free, after open democratic elections resulted in a victory for Alejandro Toledo. Two countries, Gambia and Mauritania, moved from Not Free to Partly Free. Both countries demonstrated marked improvements in their election procedures. Trinidad and Tobago fell from Free to Partly Free amid a disputed national election. Liberia and Zimbabwe declined from Partly Free to Not Free amid widespread violence
against political opponents and civil society.
Trends in Freedom and Democracy:
The most revealing and relevant finding in this year’s analysis is the democracy deficit in the Islamic world, especially in its Arabic core.
“The reality in much of the Islamic world is that democratic voices are opposed not only by tyrannical regimes but also by powerful Islamic political forces, some of them supported by the power of the mosque, which often promotes antidemocratic and anti-Western viewpoints,” said Mr. Karatnycky.
Of the world’s 192 countries, 121 are electoral democracies. However, only 11 of the 47 nations with a Muslim majority, or 23 percent, have democratically elected governments. In the non-Islamic world, which comprises 145 states, 110 are electoral democracies (75 percent).
Therefore, a non-Islamic state is over three times more likely to be democratic than an Islamic state. None of the 16 Arab states of the Middle East and North Africa is a democracy.
In addition to a democracy divide, there is a dramatic freedom deficit between majority-Muslim countries and the rest of the world. Of the states with a Muslim majority, only one, Mali, is rated Free. Eighteen are rated Partly Free, and 28 are considered Not Free. By contrast, in the non-Islamic world, 85 countries are Free, 40 are Partly Free, and 20 are Not Free.
The gap in freedom has only widened over the last 20 years. While every other region of the world has registered significant gains for democracy and freedom, the countries of the Islamic world have experienced a significant increase in repression.
There are, however, bright spots. This year’s analysis does not imply an inherent incompatibility between the Islamic world and democratic values. Democratically constituted governments, such as those in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey, govern countries with large Muslim populations. Indeed, today, the majority of the world’s Muslims live in electoral democracies. In Bahrain, political reforms were begun after both men and women voted in a referendum. In Iran, a discernible democratic ferment is challenging the restrictive measures imposed by the ruling clerics.
Some of the study’s principal findings
Countries rated Free account for $27.1 trillion of the world’s annual GDP and represent 87 percent of global economic activity. By contrast, Partly Free countries account for $2.0 trillion in output (6 percent), and Not Free countries produce $2.2 trillion (7 percent). At the end of 2001, there were 121 electoral democracies out of 192 states (63 percent). At the end of 1987, there were just 66 out of 167 countries (40 percent).
In the non-Islamic states of east-central Europe and the former Soviet Union, there are 11 Free countries. There is not a single Free country among the countries in those regions with a majority Islamic population.
Democracy and freedom remain deeply entrenched in Western Europe, with all 24 states rated Free.
Of the 35 countries in the Americas, 32 are electoral democracies (91 percent); 23 are rated Free (66 percent), 10 Partly Free (28 percent), and two – Cuba and Haiti – are Not Free (6 percent).
In east-central Europe and the former Soviet Union, the picture is bleaker. Nineteen of the 27 post-Communist states are electoral
democracies (70 percent), but only 11 are considered Free (41 percent). Ten are rated Partly Free (37 percent) and six Not Free (22 percent). Of the 12 non-Baltic former Soviet republics, 6 countries are Partly Free, 6 are Not Free, and none is rated Free.
Of Africa’s 53 nation-states, only 9 are Free (17 percent). Twenty-five are Partly Free (47 percent), and 19 are Not Free (36 percent). Only 20 African countries are electoral democracies (38 percent).
In Asia, 18 of the region’s 39 countries are Free (46 percent), 10 are Partly Free (26 percent), and 11 are Not Free (28 percent). Twenty-four of the region’s polities are electoral democracies (62 percent).
Democracy and freedom remain the least rooted in the Middle East’s 14 countries. Israel is the only country rated Free (7 percent). Three states – Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait – are Partly Free (21 percent), and 10 are Not Free (71 percent). Israel and Turkey are the only electoral democracies (14 percent of the country total) in the region.
Worst of the Worst
This year’s survey rates 48 states as Not Free. All deny their citizens a broad range of basic freedoms. Of these nations, 28 have majority Islamic populations. Ten of the Not Free countries received the lowest ratings for political rights and civil liberties. Two – Cuba and North Korea – are one-party Marxist-Leninist regimes. Seven – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Turkmenistan – are majority-Muslim countries. Burma, under a military dictatorship, is the tenth worst rated country. Two territories, Tibet and Chechnya, also received the worst ratings.