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Religion and Society

Secularism: The Other Roadmap for Democracy in the Middle-East

With few exceptions, most Arab countries are ruled by a corrupt and secular elite that is benefiting from the status quo. This elite is afraid of what democracy might bring, so they do everything they can to scare the US and the West of what democracy may bring. The secular elite is increasingly marginalized, isolated, authoritarian, and corrupt. They are neither genuine secularists nor democrats, but they raise these flags to seek support from the West. Being elitist, they have no grassroots or popular support, and they discourage popular participation in the political system because they do not trust the people to keep them in power. External pressure is absolutely necessary to convince them that democracy is the only way to bring about economic development, stability, and rule of law.



Secularity was developed in Europe as a reaction to the Church’s control of governments during the Middle Ages. The Muslim world was never ruled by a religious clergy, with the exception of modern-day Iran where the clerics took control after the Iranian people overthrew the Shah’s oppressive government. Complete separation between religious values and politics is impossible in the Muslim world, while separation between religious and political institutions is necessary.



In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when democracy was being developed and implemented in Europe, there was fear that the Catholic Church would be an obstacle to democracy, but the “Christian Democratic” movement grew and defended the idea that democracy was compatible with Christianity. In the Muslim world, we are seeing the birth of “Muslim democrats” who are advancing and advocating similar ideas.



We must come to accept and understand that it will indeed take time for people to discern the proper relationship between religion and politics, and between religious scholars and elected political leaders. Ultimately, people are smart and do not want to live under any form of tyranny, whether secular or religious.