clear
Saturday May 28th, 2016 4:16PM

Q&A: Islam and Middle East elections

By Staff
Related Articles
  Contact Editor
Afghanistan has just completed a presidential election and Egypt will hold one in May, less than a year after the president elected in 2012 was ousted in a military coup. Dr. Kathleen Woodward, associate head of the Department of International Affairs and Political Science at the University of North Georgia (UNG) was asked recently about emerging democracy in the Middle East.

*How is Islam meshing with the transition to democracy in the region?

Islam is not necessarily an obstacle to democracy. The government of the early Muslims involved consultation with a group of leaders rather than one strong-man rule. While Muslim history includes violence and conquest, the society in Medina is often referenced as an example for how Muslim governance can be compatible with democratic institutions.

The Constitution of Medina outlined some constraints on government and protections for people, and many Muslim leaders look to this era as a precedent for democracy and protection of individual liberties, including protections for non-Muslims in society. There is also a concept of itjihad in the Muslim tradition that means "reason or interpretation" that calls for Muslims to use their reason and minds to adapt to the time and place.

These historical and theological aspects of Islam are frequently used to emphasize the compatibility of Islam with democratic political institutions, but there are numerous social, economic, and political factors that push more radical interpretations of Islam that disavow democracy. What is currently happening across the Middle East has much to do with conflicts that exist outside of religion, but religion is used by people as a pretext for these power struggles.

Each country has a different dynamic and it will take time to know what post-autocratic Muslim societies and governance will look like. Islam has become the only venue for opposition to repressive rule throughout the region, and this tends to radicalize religion. If people had other organizations and institutions through which they could express their concerns, then religion would be just one of many forces in society.

Another factor affecting prospects for democracy in the region is the antagonistic relationship of the pre-dominantly Sunni Muslim countries with Shi'ite Iran, which has led to the growth of radical Islamic groups through several Persian Gulf states giving money to radical Sunni groups.

This support may haunt the Gulf states because the Islamic groups will likely turn on the monarchies of the region as their corruption and suppression of political participation is resented more and more. This again points to how suppressing secular organizations, leaving only radicalized Islamic organizations in place once repressive regimes are overthrown, makes a transition to democracy more difficult.

*Why is Egypt holding presidential elections again?

Egyptian presidential elections scheduled for May 26-27 will be the second elections held since 2011, when massive protests led by a handful of secular liberal leaders brought down three decades of autocratic rule by Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak ruled through a repressive infrastructure with army-owned businesses, corruption, and police repression of opposition. The only outlet to voice dissent was through mosques, which Mubarak could not control. This repression increased the appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic social and political movement begun in 1928. For decades, Egyptian rulers have tried to suppress the Brotherhood through jailing and executing its leaders and members, and the Brotherhood engaged in acts of violence against the repressive regimes.

The 2011 protests were not led by the Muslim Brotherhood, but were the result of a handful of secular liberal leaders using social media to call people to the streets. As Mubarak's family and closest cronies had begun to hold more of the country's wealth, the army saw the need for change and told Mubarak he needed to leave power, initiating the transition to democracy.

When Mubarak was forced to leave office, the Muslim Brotherhood, albeit outlawed, was the only mass-based organization in Egyptian society. This allowed the Brotherhood to quickly form a spin-off political party and sweep the elections for parliament and the presidency. Mohamed Morsi, a leader from the Muslim Brotherhood, became the first democratically elected president of Egypt.

Even with Mubarak gone, the "deep state"
© Copyright 2016 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Judge denies motions to move, delay Tsarnaev trial
Lawyers for Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev asked a federal appeals court Wednesday to overturn a judge's decision to not move his upcoming trial out of state.
10:02PM ( 1 year ago )
High court to adopt electronic filing of cases
The Supreme Court is belatedly developing an electronic filing system similar to those used in courts around the country, Chief Justice John Roberts said Wednesday in his annual end-of-year report.
7:57PM ( 1 year ago )
Storm brings snow, cold to West for New Year's
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
5:19PM ( 1 year ago )
U.S. News
Grass fire impacts rush hour traffic on 985
Rush hour traffic on I-985 was slowed by a grass fire Wednesay afternoon with one lane closed while firefighters fought the blaze.
10:19PM ( 1 year ago )
Hall County conviction, sentencing to be reviewed by SCOGA
The State Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of a Hall County man when they reconvene in January.
2:37PM ( 1 year ago )
Local/State News
Committee leaves transportation funding to lawmakers
Georgia will have to cover a $1 billion to $1.5 billion transportation funding gap to stay economically competitive, a committee of lawmakers is warning in a report issued Tuesday.
5:36AM ( 1 year ago )
US off war footing at year's end, but wars go on
Taking America off a permanent war footing is proving harder than President Barack Obama may have suggested.
6:13PM ( 1 year ago )
GOP leader regrets talk to white supremacists; party leaders rally around him
House Republican leaders rallied around one of their own, Whip Steve Scalise, on Tuesday after he said he regrets speaking 12 years ago to a white supremacist organization and condemns the views of such groups.
6:08PM ( 1 year ago )
Politics
Amid shouts of 'shame,' House GOP defeats gay rights measure
Democrats shouted "shame," but House Republicans switched their votes and defeated a measure to protect gay rights
8:03PM ( 1 week ago )
CDC director Freiden warns GOP Zika bill is inadequate
The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Wednesday that a House GOP measure to combat the Zika virus is inadequate to deal with the swelling threat to public health
7:36PM ( 1 week ago )
Trump unveils list of his top picks for Supreme Court
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, released Wednesday a list of 11 potential Supreme Court justices he plans to vet to fill the seat of late Justice Antonin Scalia if he's elected to the White House.
3:31PM ( 1 week ago )
1st US penis transplant could bring hope to maimed soldiers
A 64-year-old cancer patient has received the nation's first penis transplant, a groundbreaking operation that may also help U.S. veterans maimed by roadside bombs
8:04PM ( 1 week ago )
States dig in against directive on transgender bathroom use
Politicians in Texas, Arkansas and elsewhere are vowing defiance over the Obama administration's new directive on transgender bathroom use
9:19PM ( 2 weeks ago )