Muslim Arabs Favor Democracy

May 2, 2009

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On the right is my graphite stick painting, I call “Hero”, of one of the most memorable photos from the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, China. The blog below is a repost of my July 24, 2005, post on my non-functioning Freedomist blog.

For those interested in freedom and systematically collected statistics on it, there are a few essential websites to know about. Among them are Freedom House and its rating of countries by their freedom and various reports on democracy; and another is the Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal “Index of Economic Freedom”. Another site, apparently not well known outside of academia, is The World Values Survey at the University of Michigan.

So much of what the media has to say about other countries, their values, and their view of democracy and the United States, is by assumption, unreliable personal experiences, and hearsay. Yet, here is a huge survey that assessed the values of 65 societies over six continents and encompassing 80 percent of the world population. Moreover, they can track the change in values of particular societies over time, since they have done surveys in 1981 (limited to Europe), 1990-191, 1995-1996, and 1999-2001 (all global). Their sample for each nation ran to at least 1,000 people. All their reports and data are available from their website or given links.

One more thing. Their systematic analysis of the values they uncover is systematic and at the forefront of available methodologies. They use correlation, multiple regression, and factor analysis extensively, on which I have written a textbook (see my summary article here, and so I can attest to the validity of their results.

Of course, I will be exploiting their conclusions and data as relevant to freedomism, and for this blog want to focus on the valuation of democracy among Arab Muslim countries. I don’t need to garner quotes for what is obvious in the American media, which is the belief that by culture and religion, Arabs do not think highly of democracy. Or to make this comparative, they think much less highly of democracy than do Western democracies. Wrong. See their studies, Muslims and Democracy” (use the search box in the upper right to search under the author, Fares al-Braizat), and “The Worldviews of Islamic Publics in Global Perspective” (use the search box to search under the author, Ronald Inglehart).

Some tidbits from both studies:

The major differences in values lie along two dimensions (75% of the variance) a traditional vs. secular rational dimension, or religiosity vs. economic development; and a survival values vs. self-expression (e.g., economic security over self-expression).

Religion defines compact cultural zones, but historical experience plays a role just as it did for those nations that were ruled by communism

As low income societies, fourteen Islamic societies tend to emphasize tradition and survival values (e.g., low tolerance of outgroups such as gays and women, and low valuation of freedom of speech and political participation), except for Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran, which tend to be more secular-rational.

The correlations between secular-rational societies across the globe and freedom is.83.

To the statement that, “Democracy may have problems but it’s better than any other form of government,” the people of five Arab countries strongly agreed. See the table below. Note with amazement how this agreement is greater than that for the sample from other regions, such as Western Europe. Agreement for other Muslim nations is a little lower, but still greater than for Latin American and U.S./Canada/Australia/New Zealand..

I trust the validity of this study, and therefore must ask: why is there such a democracy deficit in the world’s 47 Muslim countries, only a fourth of which are at least electoral democracies? In the main, it is the rule by dictators who fear radical Islamicists. Besides their personal gain and their lust for power, these dictators see democratization as a risky gamble. Thus, they use the popular language of democracy to maintain their rule. Given the popularity of democracy among the people, why don’t they rise up and demand democracy. Tradition, religion, but above all the fear of what dictatorship will do to them.

As Natan Sharansky wrote in his important and informative book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, what most clearly distinguishes democracies from nondemocracies is that in nondemocracies people live in fear. We see this in the Arab countries. Therefore, if the democratization the Arab people value is to come, it must come from pressure from the outside. In this, President Bush’s “Forward Strategy of Freedom” is well aligned with our understanding of the Middle East, and it is working.

Links to Share

“Islam and Freedom” Dean’s World Blog:

In short, regardless of the percentage of muslims in the population, the trend in most of these nations is toward greater and greater freedom (although Albania sure has staggered a lot). The only nation in this group to have regressed significantly is only 20% muslim, while nations with 35, 60, and even 99% muslim populations have measurably increased in freedom.

“Uganda Misses US Cash Over Freedom”:

ANDA has once again missed out on the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) because of its poor performance in political freedom and civil liberties. The two-year-old MCA is a development initiative that was established in January 2004 when the US Congress provided nearly $1 billion in initial funding that financial year for more than a dozen selected poor countries. President George Bush has requested $3 billion for 2006 for this democracy incentive.

“The North Korea ‘Quagmire'”:

The steady economic decline and the barely adequate humanitarian assistance received from China have brought North Korea into an economic desperation that has caused the governments controlling the nation to rely on income from illegal drug sales, sales of arms and missiles and counterfeiting currency. All of these illicit dealings are highly documented.”

Never Again: Ending War, Democide, & Famine
Through Democratic Freedom.
Downloadable free as pdf