The Muslim World's Poor Record of
Modernization and Democratization: The
Interplay of External and Internal Factors
Over the past decade, it has become conventional wisdom to assert that Muslim countries, especially those inhabiting the Greater Middle East, are incapable of successful modernization and transition to democracy. Moreover, Muslim inability is attributed to Islam's specific characteristics as a religion and culture. Yet this culturalist and essentialist argument does not explain the slow pace of the Muslim world's modernization and the uneven, intermittent, and unsatisfactory development of its democratization, especially in the Greater Middle East, which is the focus of this chapter. Rather, an objective analysis of the multiple factors responsible for the Middle East's poor record of modernization and democratization yields totally different conclusions. It shows that Islam, as religion or culture, plays a far less determining role in either modernization or democratization of the Muslim world than assumed by the cultural determinists.
The impact of various internal and external factors that have affected the character and pace of the Muslim countries' modernization is fully discussed in different chapters of this volume, including various case studies. Here, the focus will be on an analysis of the question of democratization and those external factors that, in a dynamic interaction with internal forces, have so far hindered the establishment and consolidation of democratic forms of government in the Muslim world, most notably in the Middle East. Among these factors, the following are particularly important.
First, the legacies of colonial rule have determined to a great extent the trajectory of democratization in the Middle East. Second, the early stage of state making and nation building in third world countries that is shared by the countries of the Middle East has further exacerbated the problems they inherited from colonial rule. In addition, certain unique features in the process of state formation in the Middle East have made the problem more acute for them. Third, the