Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Don’t Blame Islam for the Failure of Egypt’s Democracy

July 5 (Bloomberg) -- The Arab Spring started in Tunisia, and within a few weeks it had spread to neighboring Egypt. Today, 2 1/2 years later, Tunisia is close to ratifying a democratic constitution with well over two-thirds’ support in the constituent assembly. Egypt, as the world knows, is in the throes of a military coup that removed the democratically elected president. The obvious -- and crucial -- question is: What’s the difference? Why has democratic constitutionalism worked relatively well in one North African Arab country while it has crashed and burned in another? And what will the answer tell us about the future of democracy in the Arabic-speaking world, from Libya to Syria and beyond?

You might think the answer has something to do with Islam. But remarkably enough, it doesn’t. In both Tunisia and Egypt, the first democratic elections produced significant pluralities favoring Islamic democratic parties. Ennahda, the Islamist movement whose political party won in Tunisia, is ideologically similar to the Muslim Brotherhood, and is a kind of associate of the Brotherhood’s loosely affiliated internationale. Both parties believe in combining Islamic values with democratic practice. Both accept a political role for women and equal citizenship for non-Muslims, even if in practice they are both socially conservative and seek the gradual, voluntary Islamization of society.