Term Paper: Democracy Survive in a Patrimonial State?

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¶ … Democracy Survive in a Patrimonial State?

Like other areas of the world, the Middle East is today very much a product of colonialism. Even though the Middle Eastern nations of Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, and Iran have long been a patrimonial society, that is, having inherited its Islamic tradition from the Prophet Muhammad; Britain nonetheless colonized these nation states and imposed its imperialism upon the citizens of these Islamic nations. The individual Arab states, having in common Islam, stood as independent states; that is, they had separate governments and their ethnic mix of their populations differed. When Britain colonized these countries, it was akin to force feeding Western culture to a society that had no taste for the culture, choosing instead, as would any enslaved population, to be independent of British influence and to remain independent Islamic states. However, it did not necessarily mean that these societies rejected the economics or politics of their colonial rulers.

In the postwar era Britain and the United States worked together to create a Jewish state in Palestine, a homeland for Jews who had been ejected from other nations across Europe by Hitler's Fascists. The creation of Israel would serve a dual purpose in the Middle East. It would provide a homeland for the Jews, and it would be non-Islamic democratic state with whom the West could itself in the face of a growing Arab world hostility and a growing Islamic world following.

The dynamics of the political developments in the Middle East that brings us to the present day have been evolving since World War II. By the time Britain realized that colonization of the Arab states was not going to work and began pulling out of the Middle East, its goal was to reconcile the destructive influence that it had imposed upon these states, and to become partners with the states in the interests of the Middle East on a whole. The priority was to prevent hostility towards Britain as a result of colonialism - which had failed miserably because the nature of the patrimonial Islamic state was not such that it could support western politics or ideals. What the British were doing by the time they began decolonizing the Middle East might be considered damage control, to protect their economic and social interests in the region.

The nature of Islam and the patrimonial culture of the Middle East would no more support democratic governments than it could support imperialism. This left the only governmental alternative as one of either a monarchy or dictatorship. In Saudi Arabia the royal house of Saud emerged as the ruling body over the Saudis; in Jordan the royal line of Hussein; and in Egypt there is an elected administrator, the President, however, there is no separation of church and state as one might associate elections with in a democratic society. Rather, in Egypt the president serves as the political representative, while the Islamic courts and Islamic law are integral to the governing of the country. Egypt is an Islamic state, and while it has perceived weakness, they arise out of the national identity more so than a political identity.

Colonialism left its mark on the Middle East. Britain did not underestimate the need to work in partnership with the former colonies, and for the most part found the governments of the independent nation states open to relationships that facilitated social and economic progress within those states. Although colonization had failed and the states had been decolonized, this did not mean the end of the extent to which Great Britain, France and the United States were willing to exploit the resources of the region. Although the rhetoric used was such that Britain, the U.S. And France were looking for partnerships, each of these super powers had its own agenda and "partnerships" had a tendency to be agreements that favored the interests of the Western nation over the Middle Eastern nation.

It was, however, the colonial experience that prepared the Middle Eastern states to be prepared to deal diplomatically with Britain and the United States in matters of foreign and economic affairs. By the time the British pulled out of the colonized countries, it was not long before those countries created a coalition amongst themselves, such as OPEC, to deal with the Middle East's main commodity, oil. It was oil that the Western world nations needed from the Middle East, and though it took some time for the former colonies to perfect their diplomacy, they eventually reversed what was an economic situation over Middle Eastern oil in favor of the West, turning it instead to an interest in favor of the Middle Eastern states where it rightfully belonged. Meaning that agreements and oil rights and profits that had under colonialism had been diverted away from the Middle Eastern states were now under the control of the Middle Eastern states and would economically benefit those economies over the Western world. To accomplish this, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq nationalized their oil fields, essentially evicting large Western oil companies that had exploited these natural resources during the colonial period of these states.

So while political development in the Middle East is compatible with the patrimonial nature of the Middle East, democracy is not. Democracy and Islam are much too different in political theory to be compatible. Islam is a religion that is inextricably woven into the governmental processes of each Islamic state; cannot be extricated from that weave. Islamic states are theocracies, and as such are very different in nature and process from democratic states. There can be no separation of church and state, and the laws of Islam do not create equality between races, genders, or distinguish between the law of man and the law of God.

In Islam, the law is the law of God, and while theocratic states in the Middle East acknowledge there are civil and religious infringements, they have set up systems where those infringements that are civil in nature and therefore fined monetarily are brought before civil bodies that impose penalties. Those of a religious nature go before religious courts where the religious clerics impose penalties according to Islamic tradition - often times involving what appear to the West to be inhumane and ancient tortures rather than punishment.

This has been a concept that the Western world has had difficulty coming to terms with; first during the colonial period, and now in the post colonial era. If the Islamic states have weaknesses, it is not a side effect of the colonial imperialism or democratic policies of the Western world with which it must contend. Rather the weaknesses come from within their own theocratic rules that close their societies to the world community and world economics and world markets.

Islam is not accepting of non-Islamic cultures, and especially since the colonial period is cautious of the Western world's influence on its societies. While countries like Jordan, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates have been successful and comfortable in their relationships with the West that allow the cultural exchange between Muslims and Christians; countries like Iran remain firmly opposed to Western influences, and as such have taken their country step-by-step back into an age that predates colonialism, reinstating laws that even by Islamic standards are archaic and highly discriminatory in nature. Much the same as what the Taliban and Al Qaeda attempted with Afghanistan.

So while it is not possible to mix theocracy with democracy, it is possible to have cultural exchange and to promote and celebrate diversity. Unfortunately, Israel continues to be a problem for the Middle East because it is a non-Islamic society; in addition to the fact that it is perceived as the creation of the British and the Americans, and carved out of Palestine.

Perhaps the closest any Middle Eastern state has come to a democracy is Egypt; but Egypt must be very careful about how it goes about its politics because it remains in the Middle East, is an Islamic state, and if it veers to far in the direction of what appears Westernization; it would suffer the wrath of the other Middle Eastern states, which remain fully committed in theocratic principle and policies.

As it appears right now, the entire Middle East is at risk of completely losing their existing governments to religious clerics who would rule those countries, not so different than now functions in Iran. The Iranian president is very much a figure head, a tool of the ruling clerics and is completely powerless but for the powers that are allowed him by the clerics.

What we see in the Middle East today is a move towards greater theocratic control over the region, and for that reason democracy has no place in the Middle East. However - and this is perhaps the reason we see the conditions in the Middle East as one where the religious clerics are concerned and attempting to gain more control; because the juxtaposition between societies and political policies has grown more apparent… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Democracy Survive in a Patrimonial State?.  (2007, May 16).  Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/democracy-survive-patrimonial-state/3398211

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