The Rule of Law, Islam, and Constitutional Politics in Egypt and Iran

By Smith-Doughty, Lexy | The Innovation Journal, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Rule of Law, Islam, and Constitutional Politics in Egypt and Iran


Smith-Doughty, Lexy, The Innovation Journal


Saïd Amir Arjomand and Nathan J. Brown, eds. The Rule of Law, Islam, and Constitutional Politics in Egypt and Iran Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2013

Reviewed by Lexy Smith-Doughty

Democracy as theory and practice is currently seen mainly as an outgrowth of the eighteenth-century European Enlightenment. It has several essential parts including the Rule of Law, Majority Rule, Minority Rights and a system of free and fair elections. Most modern democracies also have some declaration of individual rights and some associate democratic governance with the development of a capitalist economy.

Democracy is strongly associated with Western societies, high levels of economic and technological development, a generally secular culture, and equity with respect to the rights of all citizens to equal treatment under the law and equal opportunities for education and employment. In short, it seems a natural outgrowth of liberalism both in its early form as a revolutionary ideology aimed at the transformation from feudal to modern society and also in its more contemporary form of promoting social programs to alleviate problems of poverty and promote the health, education and social well-being of all citizens.

As long as liberal democracy was largely limited to European or settlement societies such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, its meaning was reasonably clear and its common practices were well enough understood. In the past half-century, however, geopolitical realities have changed.

Firstly, the former colonies of countries such as Spain, which won their independence mainly in Latin America in the nineteenth-century, have transitioned from economically backward countries to truly developing nations. Decades of authoritarian regimes, often run by military dictatorships and comprador capitalist elites, have become full-fledged democratic countries with bright futures.

Secondly, decolonization of the British Empire and the independence of numerous countries once controlled by France have resulted in dozens of new nations, many of which have developed their own unique forms of government which are often called democratic by their new leaders, but which often fail to meet the standards set by the wealthy liberal democracies having, in some cases, only one political party. Thirdly, over the past very few years, revolutions have taken place in largely Islamic countries in which popular demands for "democratic" change have had uncertain results. Old authoritarian systems have been overthrown but, in some cases, they have been replaced with governments that look to Western eyes to be not much better than the governments they replaced. In some cases, they appear to have exchanged one sort of dictatorship for another-some with strong religious commitments and a practical theocracy.

One of the main problems with the new regimes is, of course, that certain interpretations of Islam are applied with the result that women are regularly subjected to systemic oppression under so-called Islamist leadership. In The Rule of Law, Islam, and Constitutional Politics in Egypt and Iran, the authors deal with the fundamental democratic premise of the rule of law as it exists in two chiefly Islamic countries-Egypt and Iran.

In Iran, the American CIA, acting on behalf of British and other petroleum interests organized a coup d'état in 1953. The democratically elected government of left-leaning Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh was then replaced by the dictatorial monarch Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, who was subsequently overthrown by Islamic fundamentalists who installed the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini as "Supreme Leader."

In Egypt, the Americans were also implicated in the establishment of the virtual dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, who ruled for almost thirty years following the assassination of Anwar Sadat and are suspected of having a hand in the overthrow of Egypt's democratically Mohamed Morsi, whose political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, has now been labeled a "terrorist" organization. …

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