The Failure of Islamic Democracy, by John Owen, author of CONFRONTING POLITICAL ISLAM: Six Lessons from the West’s Past — Op-Ed Original

The Failure of Islamic Democracy
By John M. Owen IV

The recent jihadist horrors in France, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iraq, and Syria have lured our attention away from political conditions in the Middle East that indirectly helped produce them. In Turkey and Egypt “Islamic democracy” failed in 2014, and that failure will likely have long and deep repercussions for the entire region.

From northwest Africa to South Asia, majorities of Muslims routinely tell pollsters that they believe their country should either adopt literal Sharia, law derived from Islam’s holy texts, or at least follow the principles of those texts. The secularism that authoritarian Muslims imposed on their peoples from the 1920s through the 1970s is simply not popular over this vast region.

At the same time, the late Arab Spring made clear that Middle Eastern Muslims want governments that are accountable to them. The only resolution for most countries in the region, then, is some kind of Islamic democracy.

The very phrase “Islamic democracy” seems incoherent the Western ear, and indeed any Islamic democracy could not be liberal, in the individualist and secularist sense that we mean by that term today.

What, then, is Islamic democracy? Since it took power in 2002, Turkey’s ruling AK (Justice and Development) Party has invited the world to watch it build just such a system (although its leaders insist on the term “conservative democracy”). The early years of AK Party government under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan looked promising, as the economy grew, negotiations with Kurdish separatists progressed, and Turkey even moved toward membership in the European Union. The AK Party fairly won several elections.

The unraveling began in 2013 with a crackdown on protests, and in 2014 it continued with corruption charges against Erdoğan allies, media censorship, politicization of the judiciary, and arrests of political rivals. Elected President in August after twelve years as Prime Minister, Erdoğan has made clear his determination to expand the powers of that office.

Then there is Egypt. Its stirring 2011 revolution ousted the authoritarian secular regime of Hosni Mubarak, and free elections in 2012 produced an Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, and an Islamist majority in parliament. Openly admiring of the Turkish model, the new Egypt was poised to exemplify an Arab Islamic democracy.

But in November 2012 Morsi assumed extraordinary powers. Mounting public protests against Morsi’s power grab were followed by his ouster by Egypt’s military in July 2013, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In 2014 al-Sisi ran nearly unopposed for President, and while in office he has suppressed the Muslim Brotherhood and all other dissenters. Egypt appears where it was before 2011, only with a different former army general in charge.

Turkey’s Erdoğan has bested his opponents; Egypt’s Morsi was destroyed by his. But in both countries the experiment with Islamic democracy has failed. Each elected leader confronted powerful elites and large segments of the public who did not trust him to remain a democrat. Relations deteriorated, factions polarized, and both countries are settling into sultanism.

These depressing stories are not only about Turkey and Egypt. They are about the future of Islamic democracy itself. For nearly a century the entire Middle East has been passing through a legitimacy crisis, or a struggle over the best way to order society. The West and other regions have passed through legitimacy crises of their own in past centuries – most recently, the twentieth-century struggle between communism and liberal democracy. Prolonged spasms like these scramble political loyalties and generate unrest, revolution, and foreign interventions.

In the Muslims’ current crisis the original contenders in the struggle were secularism, pioneered by Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic; and Islamism, formulated by thinkers such as the Sunni Hassan al-Banna and the Shia Ruhollah Khomeini. Many Muslim and non-Muslim scholars, journalists, and politicians lately have touted Islamic democracy as a hybrid solution to this long struggle.

Western history shows that long international ideological contests are played out in the policies and performances of real countries. And they end only when a large, influential state that exemplifies one contending ideology manifestly outperforms large states exemplifying the alternative ideologies.

Consider the Cold War, a struggle between the liberal democracy and communism that played out in the competition between the United States and Soviet Union. By the 1980s America’s economic, technological, and military superiority was clear. Societal elites the world over concluded that communism did not work after all. Country after country abandoned state socialism, and liberal democracy enjoyed a period of predominance over much of the globe.

In 2011 and 2012 it appeared that the Middle East was heading for a similar resolution, with Turkey showing the superiority of Islamic democracy, Egypt following its example, and elites in neighboring societies adopting this new hybrid regime as the wave of the future. As 2015 begins, things look nearly the opposite. Tunisia, which recently held fair elections and a peaceful transfer of power, provides some hope. But if history is a good guide, Tunisia is too small and peripheral to be an exemplar or inspire imitation.

We can continue to argue over whether the retreat of Islamic democracy was inevitable or caused by other factors. We can argue over whether Islamic democracy’s time has passed, or not yet arrived. What is clear is that the Middle East’s legitimacy crisis continues, with an end no longer in sight.

John M. Owen IV is Professor of Politics, and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, at the University of Virginia and author of CONFRONTING POLITICAL ISLAM.

Watch Anat Admati’s entertaining TEDx talk “Seeing Through THE BANKERS’ NEW CLOTHES” at Stanford

Banking critic and Stanford finance prof Anat Admati recently gave a talk at TEDx Stanford titled “Seeing through THE BANKERS’ NEW CLOTHES,” based on her bestselling book, with Martin Hellwig, THE BANKERS’ NEW CLOTHES: What’s Wrong with Banking and What to Do about It. Check it out below.

Ian Goldin stopped by the USA Today offices to chat about his latest book THE BUTTERFLY DEFECT on video

Ian Goldin, director of the Oxford Martin School and professor of globalization and development at the University of Oxford, recently stopped by the USA Today offices to discuss his latest book THE BUTTERFLY DEFECT: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do about It with editor-in-chief David Callaway. Check out their entertaining discussion below.

Astrophysicist Katherine Freese to discuss THE COSMIC COCKTAIL at Town Hall Seattle tomorrow night, May 20, at 7:30 PM

If you are in the Seattle area tomorrow night, May 20, please come out to see University of Michigan astrophysicist Katherine Freese discuss her new book THE COSMIC COCKTAIL: Three Parts Dark Matter at Town Hall Seattle at 7:30 PM.

Astrophysicist Katherine Freese to discuss her new book THE COSMIC COCKTAIL: Three Parts Dark Matter on Monday, May 12, at Hayden Planetarium/American Museum of Natural History

If you are in the New York City area on Monday, May 12, please come out to see University of Michigan astrophysicist Katherine Freese discuss her new book THE COSMIC COCKTAIL: Three Parts Dark Matter at the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City starting at 7:30 PM. Hope to see you there!

Watch Peter Schuck discuss his new book WHY GOVERNMENT FAILS SO OFTEN on The Daily Show — Extended Interview Part 1

Gillen D’Arcy Wood discusses his new book TAMBORA: The Eruption That Changed the World

Please enjoy Gillen D’Arcy Wood discussing his new book TAMBORA: The Eruption That Changed the World, due out from Princeton University Press in May.

Physics Today interviews Princeton physicist William Bialek on his path-breaking new text book BIOPHYSICS: Searching for Principles

Princeton University professor William Bialek, renowned for his research on the interactions of physics and biology, was interviewed for the February 2014 issue of Physics Toady about his groundbreaking new textbook BIOPHYSICS: Searching for Principles.

A sneak peak:
Physics Today: How does your approach to biophysics compare with others, and how is that approach reflected in the layout of your text?

Bialek: I think most previous textbooks have presented biophysics as a biological science, or perhaps as a cross-disciplinary amalgam. I have taken the view that there is a physics of biological systems and that this is to be understood in the same way that we talk about the physics of solids or the physics of the early universe. So this book tries to present biophysics as a branch of physics.The physics of biological systems is a very broad subject, and I have tried to capture as much of this breadth as I could: from the dynamics of single molecules to the collective behavior of populations of organisms….(continued)

Russian expert Angela Stent discusses her new book THE LIMITS OF PARTNERSHIP: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century on February 4 at the Princeton Public Library

If you happen to be in the Princeton area on Tuesday, February 4, please come out to the Princeton Public Library to hear a lively discussion with Russian expert Angela Stent, author of the new book THE LIMITS OF PARTNERSHIP: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century. The event begins at 7:00 PM and is part of the Thinking Allowed series, a speakers series co-sponsored by the Princeton Public Library and Princeton University Press.

Angela Stent is Director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies and Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She is also a Senior Fellow (non-resident) at the Brookings Institution and co-chairs its Hewett Forum on Post-Soviet Affairs. From 2004-2006 she served as National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia at the National Intelligence Council. From 1999 to 2001, she served in the Office of Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State.

Jonathan Losos, editor-in-chief of the monumental new reference THE PRINCETON GUIDE TO EVOLUTION, on “What Darwin Got Wrong” in The Chronicle of Higher Education

Just in time for the publication of our comprehensive and authoritative new reference book THE PRINCETON GUIDE TO EVOLUTION, editor-in-chief Jonathan Losos published a terrific feature article in this week’s issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “What Darwin Got Wrong.”

From the article:
“I doubt it ever occurred to Darwin to observe evolution directly, even though he was a pioneering experiment in many other areas.  He was remarkably prescient in his views on topics like evolution by natural selection, the basics of how coral atolls form, and the role of earthworms in soil aeration, but in this particular cares–the speed of evolution–he was dead wrong.  And for more than a century, scientists followed his lead thinking that evolution occurs at a glacial pace, too slow to observe or to affect every day life.

But we now know that when natural selection is strong, evolutionary change can occur very rapidly.  Fast enough to observe in a few years–even within the duration of a typical research grant….”

New book trailer for Eswar Prasad’s THE DOLLAR TRAP: How the U.S. Dollar Tightened Its Grip on Global Finance

This just in:
Check out the new book trailer for the eagerly-awaited new book THE DOLLAR TRAP: How the U.S. Dollar Tightened Its Grip on Global Finance, by Cornell and Brookings economist Eswar Prasad, due out the first week of February.

Peter Dougherty and Robert Shiller off to the Nobel prize ceremony

Looking dapper in their tuxedos, 2013 Nobel in Economics co-winner Robert Shiller (r) and Princeton University Press Director Peter Dougherty (l) prepare for the awards ceremony today at the Stockholm Concer Hall in Sweden. Shiller, along with fellow economists Eugene Fama and Lars Peter Hansen (also a PUP author), were awarded the prize in October. Read all about winners of the The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 2013, as it is officially called, on the official website.

dougherty nobel