I already wrote about and dismissed the claim that Islam is the main reason why democracy seems to fail in Arab countries (see here). Now I’ve found a new study that seems to support my argument:
The Arab world’s so-called “democracy deficit” is not tied to the Islamic religion but rather to the Arab world’s history and the institutions introduced following conquest by Arab armies over 1000 years ago. (source)
Territories conquered by Arab armies during the Middle Ages still have weak civil societies and strong states today. Countries that are predominantly Muslim today but outside of this area of medieval conquest are not more or less democratic than the average country.
If this is true, then we can be somewhat optimistic about the possibility of real democracies emerging from the Arab Spring. If Islam were the problem, we could forget about democracy.
However, I have my doubts about the importance and validity of this explanation. It’s not the historical distance of the causal link that troubles me. You may be skeptical about the long-lasting effects of events that occurred centuries ago, but I think such effects are commonly accepted in other areas: the slave trade still causes poverty in Africa to this day, and poverty and inequality in present-day Peru for example are partly the result of the mita system of the Spanish colonizers.
What troubles me is that I can see other, more or equally important reasons for the democratic deficit in Arab countries: the resource curse, foreign intervention (motivated by the FOTA principle) and, yes, some elements of Islam (Islam’s hostility to equality, to the separation of state and church etc.). The latter point should not be understood as implying fatalism with regard to the prospect of democracy: Islam is only one causal element among many, and it’s a cause that can be eliminated. After all, Catholicism as well was once believed to be an insurmountable obstacle to democracy.
More posts in this series are here.