April 5th, 2012
09:46 AM ET

Zakaria: In Middle East, democracy deficit has its roots in history

By Fareed Zakaria, TIME

Why does it seem that democracy has such a hard time taking root in the Arab world? I explore this question in my latest column in TIME Magazine. Here's an excerpt:

As it happens, a Harvard economics professor, Eric Chaney, recently presented a rigorous paper that helps unravel that knot. Chaney asks why there is a "democracy deficit" in the Arab world and systematically tests various hypotheses against the data. He notes that such majority-Muslim nations as Turkey, Indonesia, Albania, Bangladesh and Malaysia have functioning democratic systems, so the mere presence of Islam or Islamic culture cannot be to blame. He looks at oil-rich states and finds that some with vast energy reserves lack democracy (Saudi Arabia), but so do some without (Syria). He asks whether Arab culture is the culprit, but this does not provide much clarity. Chaney points out that many countries in the Arab neighborhood seem to share in the democracy deficit–Chad, Iran, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan–yet they are not Arab.

Check out the full column here. You can read all my TIME pieces at a new landing page (with no pay wall!) here.

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Topics: From Fareed • Time

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. George Patton

    What's with this big deal about "democracy" in the Middle East anyway? More often than not, the "elected" officials turn out to be either incompetent, corrupt or both! Of course, the West likes the idea as long as these people can be bribed into doing exactly what the West wants!

    April 5, 2012 at 10:17 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Fareed, indeed the reasons why democracy deficit varies from country to country in the Middle East might have to do with history. Some countries were part of the Ottoman Empire, while others were under the influence of the Wahhibis. Yes, Malaysia and Indonesia are the only two Muslim countries in Southeast Asia. Malaysia became Muslim because it belonged to the Kingdom of Aceh of Sumatra in the 17th century. Indonesia was islamised in the 13th century by merchants from the Subindian Continent.

      April 5, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Reply
    • Tom

      Islam and democracy are incompatible and that the Arab people only have a choice between dictatorship and fundamentalism

      April 5, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Reply
      • RealNews

        Why?

        October 23, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
  2. Amir

    In 1953 Iran has a democratic government but CIA overthrow it and installed Shah and after more than 20 years of brutal dictatorship, the revolution happened. if Iran remains democratic the whole history of the region and the world would be different now.But you no, the west generally was not (and is not) interested in a Democratic ME.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:26 am | Reply
    • shahin

      True, Westerners love to say "democracy doesn't work in the Middle-East" while the fact is that the ME has never been given the chance. The West was too busy either colonizing, stealing resources, invading, installing dictators, supporting terrorists or overthrowing fragile democracies.

      April 5, 2012 at 11:35 am | Reply
    • George Patton

      Well said Amir, and quite true too! We had no right to overthrow the populist Mosadegh in favor of this Shah Reza Pahlavi back in 1953. It was the Iranian people who paid the biggest price for this unwarranted move!!!

      April 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  3. jal

    Could America survive, if America built most of thier own products?

    April 5, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply
    • Rz

      The history of trade is a long one. But nothing like what we see today. And this has been accomplished by the abundance of cheap fuel and technology. If you live in a northern clime and have bird feeding stations, the birds will grow dependent upon your food supply to get through the cold winter. And if you take that supply away, birds might actually die resulting in a fall back to their natural population.

      If you were to view every country as island unto itself, survival, of course, would still be ensured given the will and resourcefulness of humans. However, the world as we know it would obviously be quite a different place if it weren't for oil and supertankers.

      April 7, 2012 at 10:19 am | Reply
  4. joe anon 1

    america should concentrate on its own very defective democracy.

    actually, democracy doesnt exist in america. the elites present the masses with 2 puppets and voting, usually manipulated, takes place.

    russia, china, iran, syria need to send observers to insure honest voting.

    of course with 2 bought and paid for puppets, who really cares?

    April 5, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Thank you, joe. Your post above almost says it all.

      April 5, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  5. EVIL iran

    FK IRAN

    April 5, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Here goes another Tea Patier wanting to make his opinion heard here, judging by what he posted above!

      April 5, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Reply
  6. GOK

    Lazy Greeks POS worthless race and nation.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  7. Tom

    Islam and democracy are incompatible

    April 5, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Louay Safi, a member of the board of directors of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), has spent a lot of time thinking about the pairing of Islam and democratic forms of government. He sees a good fit.

      "I think that Islam as a set of norms and ideals that emphasizes the equality of people, the accountability of leaders to community, and the respect of diversity and other faiths, is fully compatible with democracy. I don't see how it could be compatible with a government that would take away those values."

      April 6, 2012 at 8:01 am | Reply
  8. Rz

    Yes, absolutely, get religion out of government and politics ! Hell, everybody knows that ! You can believe in a god and trust a politician, but don't mix the two. And don't expect any real country to be run by and for the plebs. Never has and never will, certainly not for long. Democracy is a facade for the aristocratic/corporate powers that control the purse strings. You can vote in whomever you like, do almost whatever you like, get put in jail if you like, get yourself in about as much debt as you like, grow and built almost whatever you like or can...but just don't expect to OWN it and call the SHOTS just because you have a measly stinkin' vote. Ownership and control is either earned or passed down. Always has been, and by the looks of it, always will be.

    April 6, 2012 at 10:47 am | Reply
    • RealNews

      That is simply not the world we live in.

      October 23, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Reply
  9. tom nebbia

    firstly, CONGRADS on you winning the Peabody Award..WELL DESERVED ..AFTER SPENDIING SOME TIME IN THE MIDDLE EAST ON ASSIGNMENT FIOR THE NATL. GEOGRAPHIC, I HAVE COME TO THE CONCLUSION OF WHY DEMOCRACY HAS HAS ALWAYS MAINTAINED A DEFICIT IN THE MUSLUM WORLD...IN A NUT-SHELL, THEY CAN LIVE WITHOUT THE LACK OF A STRONG ECONOMY–THE LACK OF TRIBAL RECOGNITION AND CO-OPERATION–EDUCATION, ETC..BUT THEY CANNOT MAKE DO WITHOUT MAN'S GRANDANCE EXSISTANCE- "' WOMEN "' AND THE CONTROL OF THEM, WHICH IS WHY DEMOCRACY HAS ALWYS FAILED AND ALWAYS WILL...THE GREATEST DISGUSTING EXAMPLE OF THIS CONTROL IS THE BRUTAL EXCERSIZE OF GENITEL MUTAILATION . CHEERS,,TOM

    April 8, 2012 at 11:31 am | Reply
  10. Ramon

    I would grabbed seingd books that mean a lot to me, and my laptop and an eReader if I had one. But since I get 99% of my books from the library, I wouldn't have many books to even think about grabbing.

    April 21, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Reply
  11. Minako

    This Sikorski's speech of utter,sleazy tivresude, that can make one noxious and disgusted, is another prime example of us/people being sold by our politicians to the higher, global Powers, that almost achieved finalization of their carefully mastered plans. The once ,strong, independent Europe is put down to its knees, people see it now very clearly, the euro-hyenas don't even try to hide it anymore anway.There will be a major confrontation very soon.I do not want to write bloody confrontation , but I suppose , I should.I guess, freedom should NEVER be taken for granted, there are always forces plotting incessantly how to take it away from us.

    April 21, 2012 at 8:27 pm | Reply

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