“Arab Democracy is Fantasy,” by Elie Elhadj

Elie Elhadj posted the following article to the comment section of SC. I have created a post for it as it raises an important and certainly controversial question that has been getting increasing attention since President Bush decided that the US should bring democracy to Iraq. At the heart of Bush’s argument was the contention that Arab countries and society are ready for Democracy but are being kept from it by bad regimes and autocrats. President Bush proposed forceful regime removal as the best way to remedy this. Most Americans supported their president or were silent in the run up to war. Democrats hardly opposed Bush, largely because they could not or would not argue against democracy promotion, which is an American religion.

Those critics who did argue against Bush’s policy claimed not that Iraq was unprepared for democratic government, but that the US was not the right vehicle to bring democracy. Few argued that Iraq was not prepared for democracy itself. Elie did. [JL]

Arab Democracy is Fantasy

Democratic ideology cannot defeat Islamic theology
By Elie Elhadj

Notwithstanding that Arab rule is tribal, corrupt, and mired in favoritism and nepotism it is significant that Arab rulers typically stay in office until death, be it natural or resulting from a military coup.  No Arab king or president, however, spares an opportunity, to display the loyalty of his subjects. While the presidents conduct stage-managed referendums in which they consistently manage to achieve near 100% approvals, the monarchs draw mile-long queues of happy-looking men on every national and religious occasion to demonstrate their people’s allegiance.

Regardless of the contrived appearance of these demonstrations, a degree of real support for Arab rulers does exist. It is impossible to falsify every ballot and force every subject to hail the king. When the presidents of Egypt and Yemen allowed contested presidential elections on September 7, 2005 and September 20, 2006; respectively, the former gained a fifth term with 88.6% of the votes cast, hardly different from his four previous uncontested referendums, and the latter won 77.2% majority, after 28 years of rule.

Representative democracy is not a natural choice for most Arabs. Obedience to hierarchical Islamic authority is. Obedience is at the heart of ulama’s teaching. In the Arab home, school, mosque, work place, and the nation at large a culture of blind obedience to autocracy prevails. Poverty, illiteracy, and ill health, together with a fatalistic belief in predestination make the masses politically quietist, save for small minorities of Jihadists on the one hand and Western influenced professional activists on the other. It should be noted that the Shiite partisans of Ali have been rebellious against the religious and temporal order of Sunni rulers since the early Islamic state. Obedience here, therefore, refers to the obedience of the adherents of a specific sect to the rulers of their own sect.

Curiously, Muslim, but non-Arab countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey, together representing almost two thirds of world Muslims, conduct democratic elections and allow female prime ministers and presidents. Obviously, these non-Arab Muslims have a more relaxed attitude towards Islamic dogma than Arabs do. Why is the political persona of the Arab masses quietist?

First, the masses fear the security forces.

Secondly, the masses worry that change could result in a worse ruler.

Thirdly, the influence of Islam is strong on the Arab peoples. The Quran describes them as the “best nation evolved to mankind” (3:110). The Prophet, His Companions, the Quran, and the Sanctuaries in Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem are all Arabic. Arabs feel they are the guardians of an Arabic religion. Additionally, political frustrations during the past half-century over U.S. policies in the Middle East and Israeli humiliation have been drawing Arabs closer to Islam.

Obedience to authority is the hallmark of Islam’s political theory. In the harsh environment of the Arabian Desert, disobedience and strife could waste scarce water and staples. Islam is a way of life guided by the Quran and the Prophet’s actions and words in the Hadith. To be a good Muslim one must abide strictly by the rules of the Quran and the Hadith. The Prophet Muhammad, a product of desert living, enshrined obedience to authority into the Islamic Creed. In 4:59, the Quran orders: “Obey God and obey God’s messenger and obey those of authority among you.” The Prophet has also reportedly said: “Hear and obey the emir, even if your back is whipped and your property is taken; hear and obey.”

Belief in predestination makes tyrannical rulers seem as if they were ordained by God’s will.

Many eminent Islamic jurists opine that in the name of societal peace, years of unjust ruler are better that a day of societal strife.

Today, Arab rulers exploit Islam to prolong their dictatorships. Egypt’s president and the Saudi king declared on February 24, 2004: “The Western model of democracy does not necessarily fit a region largely driven by Islamic teaching.” Pandering ulama to Arab kings and presidents preach that obedience to Muslim authority is a form of piety. Unless the historicity of the Quran and the Hadith are allowed to be  examined, freely, rationally, and philosophically and without the fear of persecution under blasphemy laws and ulama intimidation genuine Arab democratic reforms will not evolve for generations, if ever.

Fourthly, in the Arab home, poverty drives the father to transform his children into a ‘security blanket’ for old age. Fear of destitution makes the father into what Nobel Laureate Najib Mahfouz calls the “central agent of repression,” constantly threatening his children with the wrath of God if they disobey him. At school, corporal punishment terrorizes students into blind obedience in classrooms. The manager at work, a product of the Arab milieu, demands obsequiousness from subordinates. In the thin Arab labor markets, the employee finds that blind obedience averts financial catastrophe.

Islamist democracy is no Western democracy

Lately, leaders of the Arab World’s best known Islamist movement, the Muslim Brothers, have been supporting free parliamentary elections.

Is Islamist parliamentary democracy consistent with Western democracy? The answer is no. The parliament in an Islamist democracy is not the final authority in lawmaking. Sovereignty in Islamist democracy is to God whereas sovereignty under Western democracy is to the people. Islamist parliamentary democracy superimposes an Islamist constitutional court; composed of unelected clerics, on top of an elected parliament to ensure that man’s laws comply with God’s laws, a structure similar to Iran’s Council of Guardians.

Is the Islamist constitutional court similar to Western constitutional courts? Again, the answer is no. While the former adjudicates according to the ulama’s interpretation of Islamic law, the latter adjudicates according to parliamentary laws.

The failure of Washington’s Arab democratization project

Washington has been supporting Arab dictators in order to keep the Islamists at bay. The advances that the Islamists made in every one of the Arab countries that held elections in 2005 and early 2006 at the instigation of the Bush administration indicate that the foray into Arab elections is over.

In the occupied Palestinian territories, the Islamist Hamas won 74 of the 132 seats. Iraq’s January 30, 2005 elections were expedited, if not forced, by the leader of the country’s Shiite majority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani. His candidates won 140 of the 275 parliamentary seats: In the December 15, 2005 elections, they won 128 seats. In Saudi Arabia, the 2005 municipal council elections were theatrics. Women were excluded altogether. One-half of the councilors were government appointed and the councils have no power, merely a local advisory role. In Egypt, democratic reforms meant many restrictions on the opposition and a fifth term for the incumbent. Finally, the cause of democracy was certainly not enhanced when Colonel Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator, capitulated to U.S. pressure without an ounce of change in his tyrannical rule.

The U.S. “War on Terrorism” has also delayed Arab democratic reforms. Since Arab rulers’ cooperation is needed to eliminate the local Jihadists, Washington cannot seriously pressure its dictator friends to become democrats, because of the fear that democracy could usher more Islamists into city halls. Furthermore, the enormity of the damage inflicted upon Iraq since 2003 by the American occupation in the name of democracy has repelled the Arab masses from democratic reforms.

Arab kings and presidents are delighted!

What is the solution?
Since democratic governance is unlikely to grow in Arab soil, an alternative would be benevolent dictatorship. Except for its non-representative nature, benevolent dictatorship could deliver participatory rule, ensure justice for all, fight corruption, nepotism, sectarianism and tribalism. Such traits would also defuse the anger that breeds and inflames the Jihadists.

How likely is it that benevolent dictatorships might replace Arab rulers’ tyranny? The answer is that since benevolent dictatorship does not evolve institutionally there is no predictable pattern to discern here. There might be a coup d’état by a benevolent dictator tomorrow; or, there might not be one, ever.

Arab democracy is sheer fantasy.

Elie Elhadj was Chief Executive Officer of a major Saudi bank during most of the 1990s. Born in Syria, he retired from banking early to earn a Ph.D. from the London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies. He has published two books:

  1. The Islamic Shield: Arab Resistance to Democratic and Religious Reforms
  2. Experiments in Achieving Water and Food Self-Sufficiency in the Middle East: The Consequences of Contrasting Endowments, Ideologies, and Investment Policies in Saudi Arabia and Syria

Comments (116)

Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Very thorough analysts, and quite a depressing reading.

I Don’t agree with the conclusion, that “benevolent dictatorship” is needed.

If we followed that tenor, and suggested “benevolence” towards the blacks in America during the 60ies, then no Obama in 2009; or if we promised “benevolence” to women during the 20ies, then no rights to women to vote today.

A dictatorship is a dictatorship is a dictatorship.
A dictatorship cannot be benevolent, because human nature isn’t benevolent.

What is needed is a kind of democracy, that is adjusted to Arab nature, Arab political culture and Arab way of life.

February 23rd, 2010, 6:18 pm


EHSANI2 said:


Please enlighten us and spell out specifically what you mean by a kind of “democracy, that is adjusted to Arab nature, Arab political culture and Arab way of life”.

February 23rd, 2010, 6:42 pm


Elie Elhadj said:



“Democracy, that is adjusted to Arab nature, Arab political culture and Arab way of life” = Benevolent dictatorship.


February 23rd, 2010, 6:59 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Ehsani and Elie,

This is a very narrow corner, that I tried to avoid.
I think that solutions or suggestions, should come from Arabs themselves. Because ideas from an Israeli or from “Westerners” might sound pompous and patronizing. But then, you asked…

Mr. Elhadj is describing the Arab society as tribal. And so the first loyalty is to the tribe and the ‘khamula’. So lets start with that.

Israel, for example, is too tribal. We have the secular socialist tribe, the religiouse nationalist tribe, the Russian imigrants tribe, the ultra religiouse, the Mizrahi, the Ashkenazi, the Arab and the druze tribes.
So, you could describe the Kenneset as a Jewish (Afghan style) ‘Jirga’ tent, where the elders gather to reach agreements, or at least to reach consensus.

Tribal is not a curse. Tribal can be opportunity and blessing. It all depends on the players.

So don’t call it Representative Democracy, but instead, call it Tribal democracy, where the elders of each tribe come to discuss the issues that are on the agenda, and to reach understandings. And that no tribe can force it’s will on the other tribes, and that crucial decisions must be taken by a majority of tribe’s elders, etc.

There are answers and solutions. It all depends upon determination and an understanding that, more of the same (= benevolent dictatorship ), will only bring more of the same oppression and backwardness.

February 23rd, 2010, 7:33 pm


Shai said:


Great article, and good learning for me.

I can understand how the Arab world was so different from the rest of the Muslim world and, therefore, how it may be possible to find Democratic rule in a place such as Turkey, but not in KSA. But given today’s level of interaction with the rest of the world, easy access to Western media, to tourists and businesspeople, to the World Wide Web, etc. (not to mention to many of these, in Arabic!), do you not think that we are already well into the “beginning of the end” of Islamic rule in the Middle East, as it has been for centuries, before massive exposure and access to the outside were available? In 10 years time, will the majority of 15 year-olds in our region, for instance, more likely be familiar with verses in the Quran, than with the Internet?

Judging purely by the amount of satellite dishes found atop every poor “hut” in our region, I can’t but assume that the direction is clear – outward, towards freedom of mind, freedom of expression, and freedom of choice.

What you’re saying about a benevolent dictator makes sense to me, but not as a final product of an evolution of Arab nations, but rather as the interim bridging form of governance, between today’s totalitarianism and the future’s representative democracy. Perhaps these benevolent dictators will have to sprout all over our region, each in turn ruling authoritatively, long enough to help shift the balance in favor of freedom. Maybe there will even be a need for one benevolent dictator to be replaced by yet another. But I can’t imagine the ME standing still, while the rest of humanity (and indeed the rest of the Islamic world) moves speedily ahead, into new eras of space, information, and technology.

In the same place that great philosophers, algebraists, astronomers, craftsmen and traders were created, while Europeans were building huts out of mud, free people could once again lead in scholarship and achievement. Look at how India has changed so dramatically, once achieving true freedom. Were the Hindus less obedient than the Arab Muslims? I’m not sure.

We may not get to see a free and democratic Middle East in our lifetime, but I would bet that within a hundred years, children from the Maghreb to the Gulf, would be competing for Science awards, and future political roles, right alongside their European, American, and Asian counterparts. I think it is inevitable.

February 23rd, 2010, 7:46 pm


Issa said:

How unfortunate that you present this racist screed without comment.

This talk about the “Arab Mind,” as if all 300 million Arabs from Morocco to Oman are the same, is absolutely disheartening to read on a website that is otherwise top-notch.

How does ElHadj square the recent democratic gains in the last 20 or so years in Kuwait, to take one example, with this theory that Arabs are constitutionally incapable of democracy?

He wants us to believe that the Egyptian elections in 2005 were free and fair, without coercion or intimidation. Does anyone really buy that? Are we supposed to ignore the low levels of turn out?

Does anyone really believe that all 300 million Arabs are latent “radical Islamists” who would not hesitate to impose medieval interpretations of Islamic law if given the chance? Are we this silly to believe that so many people all think the same way?

And, really, his comment about “Arab nature” is simply disgusting. I wonder what his opinions are on the reasons that Africa continues to suffer politically. Perhaps it’s because of “Black nature”? I suppose, “Chinese nature” explains the endurance of the communist regime, as well.

February 23rd, 2010, 8:20 pm


jad said:

Dear Dr. Ellie,
Again, excellent analyses.

Unusual and somehow smart comment by his highness the Prince of Tel Abib/Yafa, I enjoyed reading your tribal and tent translation of democracy, you are learning the lingo.
What you did is you actually described the Lebanese system which is the closest to the western democracy with a huge influence of sectarianism along the tribal idea, where the tribes over there are the religion tribes of Lebanon, and we all know how things will look like, so the head of those tribes is actually as Dr. Ellie wrote the ‘benevolent dictatorship’
BTW what is “Khamula’?? it sounds so funny and wrong.

I think both the Prince and Shai didn’t get Dr. Ellie’s point or maybe they wanted to be politically correct and not to offend anybody, but what’s in the post says that it’s all about religion and nothing to do with the idea of western democracy.
There is a fundamental problem with the Arab political system that comes and strengthen by the religion body itself the ‘Ulama’ and become one strong, blind and unchallenged system, here it goes:
“Sovereignty in Islamist democracy is to God whereas sovereignty under Western democracy is to the people.”
So any suggestion of anything out of the religious lines is considered blasphemy that is used and will be always used against anybody who dares to throw this ‘dangerous’ idea of separating State from Religious in the Arab world.
Therefore and unfortunately there is no way out of the ‘benevolent dictatorship’ idea not today not tomorrow and not until we get an Islamic version of Martin Luther ,as Dr. Ellie wrote before, who will challenge the sovereignty of God over People.
Maybe in 200-400 years form now if we are lucky 🙂

February 23rd, 2010, 8:26 pm


offended said:

Great article Elie. I have a feeling this is one of the posts that ends up attracting 500+ comments.

I do disagree with you on many things. But I have to run now, so will respond later.

Oh, respond I will.

Amir, WTH is ‘khamula’?

February 23rd, 2010, 8:36 pm


Elie Elhadj said:


Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

As long as the hold of the ulama over the Arab peoples is strong, representative participatory democracy will have no place in Arab societies. If the benevolent dictator fails to be a Muslim Martin Luther, if he fails to reinterpret the Islamic scripture in a modern way, or if he fails to separate religion from the state, no progress towards democracy will evolve, ever.

The realities today are not promising. Given Islam’s power and popular enthusiasm for it among the Arab peoples, Arab kings and presidents act to nurture the Islamic fabric of their societies in order to build a psychological defense against rebellion. To fortify their rule, Arab monarchs and presidents turn to their palace ulama for help. In mosque sermons, on television and radio programs, in classrooms, newspapers, magazines, and the internet, the ulama threaten Muslims with God’s wrath if they fail to obey their Muslim ruler (walii al-amr). In return, the ulama enjoy rewarding careers.

Islam is enshrined as the religion of the state in the constitution of every Arab kingdom and republic (Lebanon is excluded). The sole exceptions are Djibouti, which is silent on state religion, and Syria, which makes Islam the religion of the president. In Saudi Arabia, the Quran and the Sunna are the constitution. In other Arab countries, Islam is either a major or the main source of legislation.

Personal status laws in every Arab country, except Tunisia, are based on Shari’a law. Seventh century Shari’a law is the antithesis of the liberal laws of the modern age. Even in “secular” Syria, in May 2009, the government made public a proposed draft new personal status law, which, like the existing law, maintains Shari’a rules–even as Syria, paradoxically, propagates an image of gender equality and modernity. While Syria’s first lady, Asma Asad, imparts a liberal sophisticated image and the country’s well-educated and cultured Vice President, Dr. Najah al-Attar, conveys professionalism, the weight of the testimony of these two ladies in a Syrian Shari’a court of law would continue under the new proposed law to equal the weight of the testimony of one man, whoever he might be.

In Egypt, under the three supposedly “modern” military presidents since the 1953 revolution–Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak–al-Azhar has grown from three colleges in 1950 to 72 today.

You are correct in saying: “great philosophers, algebraists, astronomers, craftsmen and traders were created, while Europeans were building huts out of mud, free people could once again lead in scholarship and achievement.” However, let us remember that rigidity and resistance to innovation during the age of European Reformation, Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution were to a great extent responsible for the demise of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman ulama objected to modernization. The Prophet reportedly said, according to Abi Dawood and Ibn Majah’s Hadith collections: “Beware of innovation, for every innovation is heresy, and every heresy leads to the wrong path”, and according to Al-Bukhari: “The most evil of all matters are those that get modernized.” Such an attitude delayed the introduction of, for example, the all-important printing press into the life of the Ottomans. Three centuries after the printing press was introduced in Europe, Ottoman ulama were still resisting printing in Arabic and Turkish as an undesirable innovation. The long delay in introducing the printing press was symptomatic of the rigidity that slowed Ottoman progress at a time when Europe was charging ahead with great inventions, especially in the military field.


February 23rd, 2010, 9:09 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

This is big subject,will take long to respond.
the term benevolant dictatorship is way vague,very very vague,I need explanations.
Democracy is not the best system,where majority(50% plus one) is the authority,it ignore the other 50% minus one, it is not suitable where ethnic powers collide,however democracy is better than what we have now in the middle east.
Islam is against dictatorship,it encourage Shuraa system
Obaying the ruler is not absolute,in Islam,this leads to corruption
the masses fear the security forces,This is true that is why the people must have the right to carry arms as it is allowed in USA.
the goverment has to be strong to manage peoples affairs,but not too strong to deprive them from the reasonable right of freedom.
As for Ehsani question, Democracy where there is the pyramidal systen of tens,along with councils which have the power to defend minorities rights,and religous and non religous affairs.This is better system.

February 23rd, 2010, 9:32 pm


Majhool said:

What Eli is saying could be found in other works such as “The Arab mind” as well as most of Bernard Louis works. Strong doses of self-hate/racism are involved in these works. If humans were to follow this pessimistic view on change they would still be dwelling in caves.

Accountable governing is not a far fetched proposal for the Arab world. The barbaric rule of Arab dictators in the past few decades was unmatched. Even the ottomans did not treat their subjects with such brutality.

February 23rd, 2010, 9:39 pm


Alex said:

Alright, let’s look at Syria and the way it might manage to introduce some reforms within those constraints of religious nature that Elie discussed above:

I suggest the following is a reasonably real possibility:

1) Achieve Peace with Israel based on UN resolutions .. thanks in part to vigorous American engagement in the peace process.

2) The US gets off Syria’s back … for a change, Syria will be able to rely on American guarantees that while a relatively more aggressive reform process is underway, American puppets in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Saudi puppets in Lebanon would not try to destabilize Syria for any reason like they did in the past when they interfered in internal Syrian affairs often using religious arguments and relying on highly religious Syrian individuals and parties or on power hungry individuals known for their corrupted relations with Saudi Arabia or the US.

3) The Syrian economy benefits from years of solid growth (8+%) that minimizes poverty which provides a calm environment in which reforms can take place more safely.

3) The long anticipated Multi-Party Law allows new Syrian parties to engage in politics as long as they do not have a religious agenda (No Muslim brotherhood), nor a specific ethnic agenda (no Kurdish, Armenian or Assyrian party for example)

4) Municipal elections take place a year later

If everything goes fine … more serious reforms can be introduced … not reaching full “democracy” (that takes a decade or two) but the winning party (whichever one it happens to be) will appoint Syria’s new prime minister.

The President remains in charge of national security, defense, foreign policy and maintains a veto over constitutional matters.

That’s a good enough plan in my opinion … let the American administration and “Freedom House” try to promote it, then see if “The Syrian regime” can avoid such reforms after the US works for the interests of the Syrian people and not against their interests as it has been doing for decades which always made “the Syrian regime” despite its faults, more appealing than America and its fake calls for democracy.

An America that spends 3 trillions to destroy Iraq but does not even consider spending 50 billions to rebuild Syria is not going to be seen as the wise, honest, and dependable advocate of democracy by any Syrian.

The United States that calls Prime Minister Sharon “a man or peace” after he pounded Palestinian cities and after he made it clear he is not giving back the occupied Arab territories, is not in a position to lobby for democracy or human rights.

And a United States President who does not hesitate to bow to the King of Saudi Arabia while needing a whole year before he managed to orchestrate the process of preparing all the angry Washington “analysts” to the exceptionally difficult announcement that he is sending his ambassador back to Damascus, is not a leader Syrians will follow or be inspired by.

If “freedom House” and all the pretenders who abuse the “democracy” word for their own agendas really cared for democracy, they should recognize that the most popular Arab leader by far is Bashar al-Assad … the first thing they should do is to encourage the President of the United States to visit Syria and talk to the leader who represents the Arab people.

America loves to talk about promoting democracy (especially among Israel’s adversaries in the Arab world) .. but after the pathetic lies of the last ten years, they made a real circus out of that process.

So to conclude, I disagree with my friend Elie in the case of Syria … Younger Syrians are changing. Near democracy in Syria is possible .. but it takes genuine (not hypocritical) American leadership to help make the environment suitable for additional gradual, but more courageous, political reforms.

February 23rd, 2010, 10:06 pm


EHSANI2 said:


Egypt got her peace and America is behind her back. How do you explain the lack of progress there?

February 23rd, 2010, 10:19 pm


Alex said:


I explain it this way: The United States did not really try to help Egypt become more democratic. Because Egypt is at peace with Israel, no one complains when the US sends an ambassador to Cairo.

I am saying that the United States SHOULD make it clear to the Syrians that in return for its help in retrieving the Golan and its help in rebuilding Syria’s infrastructure and its economy, it will only ask (politely, behind the scenes, and not in the derogatory Bush, Cheney, Bolton and other clowns manner) for gradual (not immediate) political reforms.

I bet you the Syrian people will accept American support for the first time.

And I am convinced that President Assad will not be an obstacle to gradual and well thought out progress in such an environment.

February 23rd, 2010, 10:32 pm


jad said:

Dear Alex,
(The President remains in charge of national security, defense, foreign policy and maintains a veto over constitutional matters.)
We are back to square one of the ‘benevolent dictatorship’ which this whole post is talking about.
What you are suggesting is a continuous of what we have right now without the American pressure and with some more money, So what?
I wont say we will be like Egypt as my friend Ehsani wrote but let’s be a bit better, let’s say that we will become like Tunisia; do you see any democracy there? Even without any serious pressure over the system there, they are not in much better shape than any other Arabic country with the different of more women rights over there.
The problem is deeper than what we all think, it’s a fundamental one.
Just reading the denial by many Syrians and Arabs on here and the cry of ‘racist’ makes it clear how we think, if anyone of those guys read the post sub title:
Democratic ideology cannot defeat Islamic theology
Regardless if he/she is Conservative, Religious, Slightly religious, Atheist or even bigots he/she can’t but to agree with the sense that democratic ideology can not and will not defeat Islamic theology, it’s impossible to do that at this moment of our history. Our Arab citizen can’t defeat God’s will.
Unfortunately, this is our reality.

February 23rd, 2010, 10:44 pm


Alex said:

Dear Jad

A benevolent dictator controls much more.

An elected Prime minister would be accountable to the people. He would be in charge of government spending, of reforming the legal system, education, healthcare …

Democratic Turkey’s defense and to some extent its foreign policies were under the control of the army for decades (this changed the past few years). So think of Turkey if you want.

By not allowing religious based or ethnic based new parties, it might be safe to experiment with democracy in Syria. I would love to hear Elie’s opinion.

February 23rd, 2010, 10:51 pm


jad said:

Dear Alex,
Don’t you agree that by not allowing religious based and ethnic based parties you instantly discard at least 40% of the Syrian population?
(We have 10% Kurds, 1-2% Armenians (guess), 1-2% Assyrians (guess) and some 1% other ethnic groups (guess), and let’s say 1/3 of the Sunnis are conservatives (very wishful thinking) which is about 25% of the whole population, I’m not even counting the Christians, the Alawites and the Druz, considering 100% of them will agree with your suggestion (wishful thinking form my part))
How is that considered democracy when we set aside half of our population?

I totally understand your point though and I have no doubt that Syria might have better chances to become similar to Turkey than Yemen chances for example, however, I’m just trying to clarify that the issue is more complicated than some American/European support and some democratic beautification of our ‘unique’ imbedded socio-religious system.

February 23rd, 2010, 11:10 pm


Alex said:


If we follow the same logic then 3% of Americans are “Jews” and another 3% are “Muslims” and 3% are “Arabs” and …

The United States managed to be a democracy without “The Jewish party of America” and without the “Muslim Brotherhood of America”, so should we in Syria.

Another thing … Syria is, to some extent, “the beating heart of Arab nationalism” … by helping Syria manage meaningful and significant movement towards democracy, the United States will most likely see similar results in much of the Arab world. The Iraq disaster can be fixed that way.

Until then, democracy = chaos and destruction to most Arabs.

February 23rd, 2010, 11:16 pm


jad said:

I think that we are comparing two incomparable different styles here, the American democracy that is a hybrid of Greek, Roman and American Indigenous system that was based on secular system in times when America didn’t have that much mix of religious.
With an immature Syrian system that didn’t exist until the end of 1920s and got badly deformed since. Our Syrian system was and still based on the Islamic religious values and some left over Arab national fantasy from the times of the Arab/Islamic Empire of one nation and the big fantasy of having those glorious days back.
I think those are two very different ideologies and different roots, they might have few similar values, but they are still very different entities and they have different culture elements attached to each one of them, so I’m not sure how can we compare them.

I agree with you that Syria needs lots of help to become better and I wish that we can get better, but I’m not that optimist that we will have any democratic system similar to the western style you are talking about or even close enough to something called secular, we are faraway from such thing. But again, every help to put Syria on the right track would be more than appreciated, besides, who doesn’t want to see Syria as the role model of this cursed region?

(I’m such a big mouth today, I’ll shut it for a change) 🙂

February 24th, 2010, 12:18 am


majedkhaldoun said:

Syria had democracy between 1955-1958 there was no chaos or detruction

February 24th, 2010, 12:29 am


norman said:

Hi Alex,

I like your plan and i think it is very realistic in Syria, having a middle class as you said is essential in my opinion , I like that the president is responsible to safeguard the constitution and minority rights , I actually like president Assad in that post as most Syrians trust him to be fair ,
Now a couple things about the parties ,
1_ No party should have a separatist agenda ,
2_ No party is out of reach for any Syrian to join

About municipal election , that seems fair but would like the cities to be divided into borrows or towns , in Homs , there is Bab SBA, Bab Draib , Hamidiah , muhata , Inshaat , these can be counted as towns , and each can have a municipal board , Mayer and be responsible for fire , police , trash collection , schools and property taxes to support these service , having small areas to manage will be easier to do and will have more people , citizens involved and new leaders will show up that can go to higher offices or parliament ,

To have a representative municipal board it is essential that people will vote where they live not the way it is now where people vote where they come from , which is the tribal way ,voting in the town you live in for the municipal board will make that board resposive to the people of that town ,

February 24th, 2010, 2:12 am


Observer53 said:

MR. ALHADJ is bringing one important point into the discussion and that is political anthropology. The argument is that Nazism was able to occur in Germany because the family structure is authoritarian and with the rule of primogeniture unequal. Communism was attractive in Russia because the authoritarian family structure is on the other hand egalitarian. In France and Britain the primacy in on individualism. In prep-islamic arabia it was tribal and clan based but not terribly authoritarian. The early Islamic period was characterized by a revolutionary idea that is still alive today: allegiance to the one deity beyond any other allegiance be it family clan wealth inheritance. Son fought against father and brother against brother something that is quite an unbelievable situation in the tribal and clannish society that existed before all in the name of allegiance to the one deity. The Islamic state that was established by the prophet and the migration to Medina happened after an “election” of sorts called ” Baya” A covenant was struck with duties and obligations on both sides and likewise the prophet presided over several communities in Medina including a group that did not espouse Islam. The first four caliphs also had a “Baya” and ruled by consensus. The return to the pre-Islamic mode of operation was ushered in by Mouayyia when he did destroy the democratic or populist tradition of a covenant between the ruler and the population by doing what every autocrat does: he established a standing army; he hired the judges as government employees; and he established hereditary rule.
I would argue that since then there has always been and will continue to be a direct conflict between the ideal of the early islamic period and the later one. The Ottomans are a good example of a ruler being restrained by a semi independent judiciary.
In all of the different periods, commitment to the common good and the welfare of the poor and weak and destitute has never been abandoned.
Therefore, as Emmanuel Todd points out in his studies, the form of participatory regime that will come to be in the Muslim Arab world is in flux at the moment for the colonial divisions that the ME and Africa have suffered from seem to be incredibly tenacious. I am still amazed that countries like Tunisia or Jordan, less than pygmies continue to have the forced or passive acquiescence of their populations when it is clear that the regime will not be able to provide solutions for the populations on the long term.
China is now emerging as a civilization state after a process of liberation and unification from the century of “humiliation” and I do not see any one country capable of doing so to the Muslim world except Iran in its revolutionary fervor. In a similar way the US is still carrying on the revolution for if it were to revert to a mere nation among nations it would cease to have a world mission and a leadership drive.
So I do think that Mr. Elhadj does have a few good points, I believe he fails to understand the essential revolutionary element of early Islam that continue to this day to be a reference for millions of Muslims.

Now on a different but very important note, I am posting today’s Informed Comment from Juan Cole as he points out to the shrill voices of extreme Israeli nationalism masquerading as social studies

Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Harvard Professor’s Modest Proposal: Starve the Gazans into Having Fewer Babies

Martin Kramer revealed his true colors at the Herzliya Conference, wherein he blamed political violence in the Muslim world on population growth, called for that growth to be restrained, and praised the illegal and unconscionable Israeli blockade of civilian Gazans for its effect on reducing the number of Gazans.

M. J. Rosenberg argued that Kramer’s speech is equivalent to a call for genocide. It certainly is a call for eugenics.

It is shocking that Kramer, who has made a decade-long career of attacking social science understanding of the Middle East and demonizing anyone who departs even slightly from his rightwing Israeli-nationalist political line, should be given a cushy office at Harvard as a ‘fellow’ while spewing the most vile justifications for war crimes like the collective punishment of Gazan children.

Kramer is after all not nobody. He was an adviser to the Giuliani presidential campaign. He is listed as an associate of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the influential think tank in Washington of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He is associated with Daniel Pipe’s ‘Middle East Forum,’ a neo-McCarthyite organization dedicated to harassing American academics who do not toe the political line of Israel’s ruling Likud Party.

Kramer’s remarks are wrong, offensive and racist by implication. He is driven to them by his nationalist ideology, which cannot recognize the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by Israelis in 1948, cannot see that most Palestinians have been deprived by Israeli policies of citizenship rights (what Warren Burger called ‘the right to have rights’, as Margaret Somers pointed out), and that Palestinians are even at this moment being deprived of basic property and other rights by Israeli occupation. To admit that any of these actions produces a backlash is to acknowledge the Palestinian movements as forms of national liberation activism, and to legitimize Palestinian aspirations. Rightwing Zionism is all about erasing the Palestinians from history. And now Kramer wants to make it about erasing future Palestinian children!

Where have we seen the picture Kramer draws before? It is just a recycled form of Malthusianism, where the population growth rates of “some people” is seen as dangerous to society. Barbara Brown wrote of Apartheid South Africa:

‘ [White] South Africans who express a [concern with Black population growth] perceive a close relationship between population growth rates and political instability. There are two variants of this approach. The first holds that a growing black and unemployed population will mean increased poverty which will in turn lead to a black revolt. . .

In an opening address to a major private sector conference on ‘population dynamics’ in South Africa, the president of the 1820 Foundation argued that ‘Rapid population growth translates into a steadily worsening employment future, massive city growth . . . and an increase in the number of poor and disadvantaged. All are rightly viewed as threats to social stability and orderly change.’

A second, but smaller, group believes the black threat arises simply out of the changing ratio of white to black. This group sees that ‘THE WHITES ARE A DWINDLING MINORITY IN THE COUNTRY’ and argues that this situation will lead to a ‘similar reduction of white political authority’.

Some argue for birth control on even more overtly racist grounds, but few people in leadership positions do so, at least publicly. Debates in the House of Assembly have included remarks to the effect that blacks are unable to make a contribution to South African society and so should be encouraged to limit their numbers. The organiser of a ‘Population Explosion’ conference, a medical doctor who is deputy director of the Verwoerd Hospital, argued that whites must organise a family planning programme for blacks because the latter group is biologically incapable of exercising foresight.’

– Barbara B. Brown, “Facing the ‘Black Peril’: The Politics of Population Control in South Africa,” Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2(Jan., 1987), pp. 256-273, this quote pp. 263-64.

There are other notorious examples of this sort of argument, including eugenics theorist Madison Grant, who warned in the early 20th century that white Americans were being swamped by inferior eastern and southern Europeans such as Poles, Italians, and Jews.

How ironic, that Kramer should now resort to the very kind of arguments Madison used to condemn Martin Kramer’s ancestors being allowed to come to the United States.

As usual, Kramer, a notorious anti-intellectual opposed to the mainstream academic study of the Middle East, is wrong as a matter of social science.

Population growth in and of itself explains nothing, and certainly not terrorism. Between 1800 and 1900, Great Britain’s population tripled, whereas France underwent a demographic transition and grew very slowly. Yet Britain experienced no revolution, no great social upheavals in that period. France, in contrast, lurched from war to war, from empire to monarchy to empire to Republic, and saw the rise of a plethora of radical social movements, including the Paris Commune.

High population growth can be a problem for development, and can contribute to internal conflict over resources, but it is only one factor. If economic growth outstrips population growth (say the economy grows 7 percent and population grows 3 per year), then on a per capita basis that is the same as 4 percent economic growth, which would be good for most countries. Or if a place is thinly populated and rich in resources, population growth may not be socially disruptive. Most countries in the world have grown enormously in population during the past century, yet they display vastly different rates of social violence.

Although under some circumstances, rapid population growth can contribute to internal social instability, it is irrelevant to international terrorism as a political tactic. The deployment of terror, which the US Federal Code defines as the use of violence against civilians for political purposes by a non-state actor, is always a form of politics. The Zionist terrorists who blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, which killed 91 persons and wounded 46, did not act because Jewish Irgun members had too many brothers and sisters. (And if you think about who exactly might have made an argument of that form in the 1940s, it becomes clear how smelly Kramer’s is.) Irgun blew the hotel up because British Mandate intelligence had offices there, and because these Zionist activists did not care if they killed dozens of civilians.

Studies of groups that deploy violence against civilians for political purposes show that [pdf link] they are characterized by higher than average education and income, which correlate with smaller family size.

Political violence is about grievances, land, resources and politics. Palestinians were no more violent than any other group in the Middle East until they were ethnically cleansed and their property was stolen by Jewish colonists in their homeland, for which they never received compensation. As Robert Pape has shown, suicide bombings cluster in the area in and around Israel, in Iraq and Afghanistan/ Northern Pakistan, places where people feel militarily occupied. But there are none in Mali or Benin, countries with among the highest population growth rates in the world.

Kramer’s argument is implicitly racist because he applies the population-growth calculus mainly to Arabs, whose family size he minds in ways that he does not others. Belize and the Cameroons have higher population growth rates than Libya. Is Kramer afraid of those two countries? Why is it only Arab children he marks as a danger?

If population growth rates were the independent variable in predicting a turn to terrorism, moreover, the fast-growing ultra-Orthodox or Haredi Jewish population of Israel would be a concern. But in fact they refuse to serve in the Israeli army and so are the least violent part of the population (though there have been occasional Haredi attacks on Palestinians.)

Kramer will find, in his new role as the Madison Grant of the twenty-first century, that his arguments are a double-edged sword that even more unsavory persons than he will gleefully wield against groups other than Arabs.

End/ (Not Continued)

February 24th, 2010, 3:18 am


Off the Wall said:

Dr. Elhadj

Reading your post motivates me to buy your book “the Islamic Shield” for I would like to understand your thesis in a little more connected manner. I will order it this weekend (time for my web surfing), and until i finish reading it, I will reserve commentary on the intellectual foundation of your assertions.

But I disagree, and with all due respect, my disagreement has nothing to do with pride or attachment, for I hold neither attachment nor animosity to any religion, and I emphasize ANY.

On first thought, I must say that your post ignores some experiments, incomplete as they are, in Syria’s history. Although dominated by by big land owners and “city nobilities”, the early anti-colonialism struggle and the nascent post-independence Syrian state had vibrant entrance into liberal democratic practices. It was the notion of benevolent dictator that prompted the first military coup in Syria, which was followed by one “benevolent wanna-be” after another.

Your assertion of obedience is true in terms of Ulama’s intent on establishing superiority of religious dictates, especially as they interpret them. But making the connection to obedience to the current batch of corrupt rulers is a long stretch. Even a Muslim child of 10 can tell you that obedience to the Amir, even under the hadith you listed, is conditioned on him being a just ruler and a true muslim ruler. And this is self evident even to the simplest, least educated Muslim. The concept of ruler’s divinity is not as prevalent in Islam as it was in Christianity, it is much more conditioned and strict. Now, what is the percentage of Arab Muslims, in any Arab country, who believe that their rulers are (a) just, and (b) true Islamic rulers. I would dare venture that such a percentage would be infinitesimally small, and even if the people pray behind the “palace imam”, they know who and what he is and have little or no trust in him when he advocates obedience to the ruler. This is as true in KSA as it is elsewhere in the Arab world. The rulers have been attempting for generations to co-opt Ulamas, as they show up for prayers, allow the establishment of state religions, and continue to give one concession after the other, but even if palace imams shout praises until their collective throat burst (excuse the literal translation), the majority of followers in any Mosque in any Arab town or village would be cynical, at best, and most likely than not contemptuous of such praises of the corrupt ruler. So I guess obedience to the current batch of dictators has nothing to do with divinity or with its exploitation. No Arab ruler, including those of KSA are trusted by their populace as True Muslim Rulers and the relationship between religion and obedience to these rulers is more tenuous than hypothetical. Some Muslims (Jihadists) take a violent approach to correct the situation, but the majority who do not, are under no illusion as to whether obedience to their rulers is their religious duty.

The root of obedience is more in fear, poverty, and in the lack of reliable social structure beyond family and/or tribe. In most cases what you see as obedience is merely a self defense mechanism used by the weak in the face of powers that are far beyond her/his ability to confront alone. This applies to factory, work place, society, and to a much lesser extent, in the home (more so with respect to the relationship between younger siblings with their older bully ones than to the relationship between children and father).

On this notion, you have an excellent point regarding the father’s role as an “agent of repression”. But it has much less to do with god than with physical punishment or psychological manipulation. The beating, shunning, and verbal abuse is what guarantees obedience, not the fear of god, but as any traumatized victim would do, the end result of long traumatizing is the child’s identification with the aggressors in the form of adopting their “godly” justification. I believe that several Arab countries are moving to correct this situation, albeit slowly, starting with banning physical punishment in schools and moving towards criminalizing it in the home.

To make myself clear, i am fully against any form of Islamic state, but I find the assertion that Islam and democracy are diametrically opposite tiring and lacking in depth. It is, with all due respect, a lazy explanation of complex social, economic, structural, and historical problem. What’s more, it serves those you are trying to dispose of by emphasizing the incompatibility they are trying to push for decades in order to avoid the development of any system of accountability. What strikes me is that the tone of the article is more fatalistic than the fatalism you ascribe to Arab Muslims. What could be more fatalistic, and self deceptive than accepting the myth of benevolent dictators. When any dictator cease to believe in his benevolence, he must cease to be a dictator.

February 24th, 2010, 3:44 am


trustquest said:

What an unfortunate article full of errors and assumptions:
-“Democracy is not a natural choice for Arab”, I think you should tell that to Mohammed Abdeh and other reformers, and I suggest to read Mr. BG at: http://critique-sociale.blogspot.com/2010/01/blog-post_25.html
about how State creation project did not mature and hijacked by dictators. Also dictators are not like monarchs, completely different beasts, with different agendas and different structure of corruption and belonging.
France did not force the parliament on Syrians but the Syrian demand it? Syria lived under the constitutional democracy from 1920s to 1958. Also summing up all Arabs in the same characteristics is unheard of except for the ignorant nationalists. I think we must realize that Saudi Arabia in the 1950s when they start selling oils, was in a setting like exactly how Prophet Mohammed left it 1400 years ago, but Syria and Lebanon were different stories and been subjected to different invaders and different interaction with other cultural.
-“Non Arab Muslims are different”, I don’t think that hold, if you look at Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan you will see how the dictators made them worse than Arab States. And if we look at Malaysia we will see the other side of the coin which is completely different from all other non Arab Muslim States?
-“Obedience is the hall mark of most Arab States”, this could only apply to Arabian Peninsula, but not to the Levant and Northern African States, which you can say disobedience is the law. And let me disagree with you about the cause, it is not American policy it is how despot Arab States taught their people but the current change in media hopefully will change this picture for good. And by the way obedience has been skewed during the dictators’ rules from obedience to the State to his obedience. Mr. Assad picture stand in front the Souq Al hamedia larger than the Souq, larger than buildings and larger than God’s symbol everywhere, which a while ago not long used to be the Minaret of the Masjed is the largest symbol, this is a retreat from spiritual values to despotism values.
– “Islamic democracy is not western democracy”, never was and should not be mixed with. Even Eastern Europe democracy is different from the western ones. Israel democracy has its own color. Each country would have different application for democracy. But, Islamic democracy which not what is on ground now, is light year ahead of dictatorship. A prove for that is Turkey current leadership.
-If your solution is the benevolent dictator, who is that one and how we could select such one? Could you bring some example please?

The underlying racist massage to this article says that Arab are stupid and they need someone to control them and step on them. In Syria for example it hurt anyone when you hear young men and women saying: we are people can be govern only by shoes (“نحنا شعب ما ينحكم إلا بالصرماية”..)

BTW, popularity of Islam nowadays is not coming from nowhere, it is coming from the frustration from the authoritarian system and people find in God more justifiable system than current ones who postponed justice in all its shapes. Also the power of Islam to protect property is another issue in which the authoritarian state could not maintain.
Your example of Syria and the personal Status law is exactly what I mean. The law written under the table was rejected from majority of representatives and against the grain of the Baath Party and his institutions, but was good indication of the alliances between value empty despot and religion.

Elie, I liked your study about water but this article is not to my taste. I think your frustration from the standing in place and even backwards moves of Arab States made you come up with disparate explanation, also I think you generalize your past experience in Saudi Arabia to other Arab States which I think not the case.

And again who doesn’t remember the beautiful painting of Jean Leon Gerome when he visited Istanbul, is this picture is Islamic in setting or part of the Renaissance of Europe.

February 24th, 2010, 5:04 am


Yossi said:

Dr. ElHadj,

Thought provoking.

A few ideas come to mind. If I look at both Syria and the US, or Israel for that matter, they are all controlled by a very limited power network. In Israel, more than 90% of capital is in the hands about a dozen families, for example. The power that be in America, make and destroy their kings, whose sole property is that they are “electable” and actually want to take the role of figureheads, even though they are guaranteed to become all gray-haired at the end of their term. The biggest difference between let’s say Syria and the US is not in how the central regime runs foreign or fiscal policy, these will always be at the hand of the oligarchy that brought and/or keeps the president in power. The difference is in the experience of the “ordinary man”, and that goes back to constitutional rights and the unbiased rule of law. Obviously, it’s very difficult to provide a constitutional right such as freedom of speech in a “benevolent dictatorship” and this is where such a dictatorship usually becomes a fantasy.

But let’s recall for a second how a country like Great Britain got to the point that even though it’s nominally a monarchy it is in all practical ways a democracy. The benefit of a monarch, especially one that is empowered by God in a religious country, is that the monarchy has a very explicit and transparent contract with the population, and the population can identify with the monarch as the representative of a multi-generational pact between the them and their rulers, cemented by the word of God. If the hold of Islam is as powerful as Dr. ElHadj says, then certainly being a direct descendent of the prophet directly relates to the values of the people. Such a dictator (a religiously sanctioned monarch) could then have the confidence that is derived from such a long-term relationship and can work, across multiple generations, to instate a “benevolent dictatorship”—have a constitution, elected government, etc. This is a process that has been taking place both in Europe and in South East Asia as well as to some degree in Jordan.

On the other hand, dictatorships which are built on on a pretence, such as the “elections” in Syria, have much less confidence and hence are limited in their maneuvering space to transform, because they rely on oppression to keep the lie about the source of their power suppressed and they don’t have the time dimension of an explicitly hereditary regime. Change can only be had by a revolution, or if the oligarchy decides to strip itself of its privileges as has happened in the USSR for example.

So my conclusion is that a country such as Jordan or Kuwait has a better chance of peacefully and gradually becoming more democratic. But that doesn’t say anything about whether the people in Syria actually want democracy or not, which is what Dr. ElHadj’s piece really is about. If Elie’s thesis is correct, then he’s describing a system in equilibrium. The people are indoctrinated to be obedient, so they are.. ad infinitum (that’s the thesis). If this is true, I can’t help but ask: if what they want is to be obedient, as they are indoctrinated to believe this is “good”, and it gives them satisfaction, then what is wrong? If the system is in equilibrium, then it means there isn’t enough stress to cause change. If there is no stress—maybe there is nothing to fix. What were the stress factors that brought about Martin Luther? When such a stress is experienced by the Arab people, they will find it beneficial to change. Otherwise, that’s just another form of human organization. Let’s not forget that we have no proof that democracy is a uniform form of government that the world is converging towards. Even what seems like promising trends are just extrapolations over a few decades, a brief moment in overall human history…

If Elie’s thesis is incorrect, and the people are not indoctrinated to be obedient, then the Arab peoples would have revolted many times by now. But they haven’t. So evidence suggests he’s probably right.

Perhaps the populations are obedient because the potential agents of change prefer to leave to the West? (Yes I’m talking about YOU average SC reader :))

Gallup.Com: In Arab Countries, Emigration Appeals More to the Employed‏


Finally, it’s clear that both Lebanon, and potentially Israel in the future, are “Arab” countries which do have some sort of democracy, and one could say that in accordance with the thesis, this was a by-product of large non-Muslim populations. I wonder if Israel were ever integrated into the Middle-East and became a truly equal society between Jews and Arabs, perhaps that could be used as an example, or a catalist for change n the region, and perhaps this is the reason God or Bob or whomever decided to create Israel, to serve as a bridge that will allow the Arabs to make a synthesis of their heritage and Western modernization. Palestinians have said before that they have learned from Israel the benefits of democratic institutions, so perhaps this is already happening to some degree.

February 24th, 2010, 6:45 am


Off the Wall said:

Each country would have different application for democracy. But, Islamic democracy which not what is on ground now, is light year ahead of dictatorship. A prove for that is Turkey current leadership.

While I fully agree with the first part of th statement, is it possible to argue that turkey is not an Islamic democracy, but a Muslim country with a liberal parliamentarian democracy, in which a forward looking Islamic party won the election and gained popularity. ?

February 24th, 2010, 6:57 am


Elie Elhadj said:

The following is a general response to the comments that appeared overnight.

Muslims can learn from the Christian experience. Europe and the West dominated the world, not because of Christianity, but in spite of Christianity. Had it not been for separating Christianity from the European state, Western modernity might not have become what we see today.

The ulama’s hold on the faithful is the worst form of slavery. A rigid and unchanging Shari’a will continue to manacle Muslims to seventh century laws and dogma of the Arabian Desert. Release from the ulama’s grip means being able to examine the historicity of the Quran and the Hadith without the fear of persecution and prosecution under blasphemy laws, or name calling and insults.

Release from the ulama’s control means freeing the mind, Muslim mind as well as all the other minds that believe in the demagoguery of predestination, fate, superstition, and psychotic explanations of the evil eye and the machinations of angels and djinn. A father who attributes the death of his son on the operating table to the will of God, not the incompetence of the surgeon, is sick and needs psychological help.

Release from the ulama’s hold would lead to instituting modern laws; in particular, personal status laws that would grant women legal rights equal to those of Muslim men. On this subject, Shari’a law, which applies in every Arab country, except Tunisia, treats women like chattel—four wives, divorce without cause, two women equal one man in inheritance and bearing witness in a Shari’a court, Misyar marriage (for Sunnis), Mut’a marriage (for Shi’ites) along with an assortment of supposed Ahadith insulting to women. Such inhumane treatment requires reconciliation, without intimidation or takfir, with the Prophet’s own life with His first wife Khadija who, tradition tells us, was treated with the utmost respect, faithfulness, and devotion. Were the Quranic and Hadith accounts in this connection, which contradict the Prophet’s own way of life with Khadija, accurate?

At issue here is how to evolve the scientific mind—how to make philosophical reasoning instinctive. Whether municipal elections should be held or not, whether economic growth rates should become 9% or 10%, or whether political parties ought to be formed or not are not my main concern. The issue here is how to clear the mind from the clutter of dogmatic beliefs. The issue here is how to develop a scientific thought process. The issue here is how remove the notion that God’s sovereignty is supreme. Unless such a mind-set is developed stagnation would set and no political reform, democratic or not, would ever be possible. Political anthropology, as OBSERVER53 observed, is a good characterization of this debate.

The answer to our pathetic condition is not in America. The answer is in the hands of Arab rulers who push their palace ulama to intoxicate the masses, including many university graduates, with demagoguery and untruth so that they may prolong their dictatorial and corrupt inherited family rule.

That we find signs of hope in the youngsters in our neighborhoods working with their computers and dancing to Western music is an illusory narrow vision. I wish every young Arab would acquire computer skills, learn foreign languages, and access the Internet. But, sadly, the fact is that Illiteracy, malnutrition, and ill-health continue to afflict the majority of the populations of every Arab country without exception. Just read the Arab Human Development Report (AHDR). This situation will not end unless the ulama’s control over the minds of the faithful is curbed and that will never happen until Arab rulers stop exploiting the Islamic creed to stay in power. If the benevolent dictator I talk about fails to separate religion from the state and curb ulama’s control, he would be a failure, notwithstanding the wonderful things that he might produce.

Through invoking certain Hadith traditions, I can argue that Islam demands the creation of elected legislative chambers akin to Western parliaments that can enact modern laws, even change Shari’a laws. I may further argue that countries that hinder the emergence of such legislative chambers would be in violation of the subject Hadith traditions. However, regrettably, no Arab ruler or member of the ulama class would allow bringing such a “dangerous” subject into the mix. Indeed, If that happens, fatwas will be flying in all directions.


February 24th, 2010, 9:45 am


Akbar Palace said:

This situation will not end unless the ulama’s control over the minds of the faithful is curbed and that will never happen until Arab rulers stop exploiting the Islamic creed to stay in power.

Dr. Elhadj,

Do you think President Bashar Assad of Syria is “exploiting the Islamic creed to stay in power”?

Most of the participants on this website, including the owners (Professor Josh and Alex) are big Assad supporters.

February 24th, 2010, 12:31 pm


EHSANI2 said:

“Why don’t the Arab republics convert to monarchs and put us all out of our misery?”

This was the conclusion to my note from three years ago.


February 24th, 2010, 2:14 pm


Majhool said:


The negative influence of religious dogma on the Arab masses is undeniable. In this however, Arab Muslims are no different from Christians, Tibetans, Jews, etc. You are correct in saying that the Christian west escaped religious dogma into modernity, but this confirms the possibility for Muslims to do the same. What I disagree with you on is your (or Dr. Landis’) conclusions. i.e. “Arab Democracy is a fantasy” and “Democratic ideology cannot defeat Islamic ideology”. By making these conclusions you are ruling out any potential progress due to intrinsic Arab/Muslim qualities which could be utterly racist and also convenient to dictators.

All the best

February 24th, 2010, 3:16 pm


Ghat Albird said:


This situation will not end unless the ulama’s control over the minds of the faithful is curbed and that will never happen until Arab rulers stop exploiting the Islamic creed to stay in power.

Dr. Elhadj,

Do you think President Bashar Assad of Syria is “exploiting the Islamic creed to stay in power”?

“Came across the following extracts referencing “exploiting creeds and control over the minds of the faithful”. A popular practice obviously not only limited to one specific creed.

According to a friend who happens to be of the faith and his readings of parts of the Talmud.

” Hitting a Jew is the same as hitting God”

Sanhedrin 58b. If a heathen (gentile) hits a Jew, the gentile must be killed.

Sanhedrin 57a . A Jew need not pay a gentile (“Cuthean”) the wages owed him
for work.

Baba Mezia 24a . If a Jew finds an object lost by a gentile (“heathen”) it does
not have to be returned. (Affirmed also in Baba Kamma 113b).

Sanhedrin 57a . When a Jew murders a gentile (“Cuthean”), there will be no
death penalty. What a Jew steals from a gentile he may keep.

Would the Old French motto, “Honi soit qui mal y pense”, ( “Evil comes to he who thinks it.” ) be pertinent?

February 24th, 2010, 3:38 pm


nafdik said:

This article is wrong on so many levels that it is not clear where one should start.

I will focus on 4 glaring errors:

1- Historical

Elie says “Obedience to authority is the hallmark of Islam’s political theory. In the harsh environment of the Arabian Desert, disobedience and strife could waste scarce water and staples.”

Clearly this statement has no bearing on the realities of Arabian political structure at the time of the prophet.

Arabian society like most nomadic societies today was highly egalitarian, the largest social unit was the tribe which was bonded through family ties.

“Within this broad sense it is plausible to assume that democracy in one form or another arises naturally in any well-bounded group, such as a tribe. The scholars name this as tribalism or primitive democracy. The primitive democracy is identified in small communities or villages when the following take place: face-to-face discussion in the village council or a headman whose decisions are supported by village elders or other cooperative modes of government.”

This gave the early Arabs very high political autonomy that was manifested early in the killing of Osman, the Khawarej movement and the governing philosophies of Omar and Ali.

Islam does not have a pope, and has fractured into many schools that argue their merit through logical discourse rather than divine authority.

2- Current state of Arab world

The author gives the impression that Islam and dictators are working hand in hand to thwart democracy.

In fact most dictators have Muslims as their fiercest opponents and Islamic parties have participated in democratic life in Syria, Iraq and Egypt after independence.

It was mostly nationalist, communist, fascist and royalist movements that had dictatorial strands and actually created dictatorships in most Arab countries.

Syria and Iraq are prime examples where the dictators were ruling against the religious instincts of the majorities.

3- Confusion about democracy

A very common misconception among Arab intellectuals is that they define democracy as the means to create the government they like.

Democracy is about the will of the majority, democracy is not about liberalism, social justice, freedom of religion, etc. The idea of democracy is that if you have a good policy you should convince the majority that this policy is good.

If the majority of Arabs are religiously motivated they will democratically adopt policies that are religiously motivated.

If you do not like it try to convince them otherwise, if you can’t then you have to appeal to a “benevolent” dictator and write articles about how the Arabs are not ready for democratic rule.

This does not mean that democracy is a perfect system, and in general it is tempered with a constitution and/or judicial system that slows down the whims of the people to prevent them from committing big injustices.

4- We are not ready “theme”

The last resort of those who do not trust their peoples.

We are not more poor, tribal, racist, sectarian, fanatically religious than scots in the 13th century or Indians in the 20th century.

Some scholars trace democracy to early Sumerian kings:

“In the early period of Sumer, kings such as Gilgamesh did not hold the autocratic power which later Mesopotamia rulers wielded. Rather, major city-states had a council of elders and a council of “young men” (likely to be comprised by free men bearing arms) that possessed the final political authority, and had to be consulted on all major issues such as war.”

So please be honest and say I do not like the outcome of the will of the people in my country, and as such I would rather we all live as happy serfs, rather than “democracy does not work”

February 24th, 2010, 4:20 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

A Question: so what is needed form today’s dictators, presidents and monarchs, to become to be benevolent? Aren’t they already benevolent ?

And a note. So if you put everything on Islam and on Koranic teachings, then a peace with Israel is not possible. Since there’s no mechanism in those teachings, which allows to make peace with those who (in their eyes) occupy Muslim land. Only a limited truce, as says the son of one of Hamas founders:

“…Hamas cannot make peace with the Israelis. That is against what their God tells them. It is impossible to make peace with infidels, only a cease-fire, and no one knows that better than I”.


February 24th, 2010, 5:20 pm


bondo said:

a few facts drowned in a sea of lewis/ajami/israeli-style crap. actually, just down right ignorant.

every point of criticism re arabs can be said much stronger for america-the-beautiful.

arab society cannot progress, evolve properly with interference from outside by far more powerful forces constantly manipulating, interfering.

there is no need for an immediate Fictional western-style democracy.

by the way has anyone looked out there window to see the real democracies in fascist america and once-upon-a-time england?

america, get a real democracy yourself. let others be.

[Edited for insults and invective]

February 24th, 2010, 6:12 pm


offended said:

Thank you Ellie for the great article and for raising the subject. I liked it a lot. But I do have few points:

1- If we are going to sit around and pray for a benevolent dictator, why not hope for a full democracy?

2- I don’t buy the argument that Arabs aren’t used or equipped for democracy. We’re probably in a tougher position these days, historically, culturally and economically that other nations. But as the saying goes, if it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander. (also, 31% of world population live under authoritarian regimes, Arabs only constitute 5% of the world population. We are not alone)

3- Democracy, as you know, has many parameters and pillars; elections, freedom of expression, human rights, separation of powers, ability to protest, religious freedom..etc.. and the assessments of these vary from one Arab country to another. For example. I find religious freedom in Syria to be excellent. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, Syria is one of the few Arab countries where you can be an open atheist and not have legal implications (except for personal status laws….). Secularism is a very precious thing these days, I am willing to live under a secular totalitarian regime rather than experiment with Islamic ‘democracy’. (in which they, Islamic parties, grab the power, tell everyone what to do and how to behave). However, I’m not even convinced that Islamists are the most popular. In a poll on BBC Arabic last week, 42% of respondents said they’d elect secular opposition. Factoring in that most Arab countries are somewhat secular, you could count those who’d vote for current government as amongst secularists too, and you end up with good majority of people not voting for Islamists parties.

Of course, it may not be as simple as that, but it is an indication nonetheless.

4- One of the aspects of democracy is the intervention of foreign powers, and, sad as it may be, this is a wide-spread thing in our midst. We do get lot of foreign influence in our affairs, for various reasons.

5- Civil society organizations must play a role. They should be empowered. Actors, celebs, writers, poets and any other public figure who have reformist ideas must be highlighted and promoted.

6- The concept of rule of law must be promoted. Now, you ask me how this could be done under a totalitarian regime. I have no specific ideas. But cynicism isn’t the solution. The culture of passiveness and acceptance of reality as it is must be challenged too.

7- Now, I know many would consider this just a stone age excuse, but the Arab Israeli conflict must be resolved. Palestinians should gain some modicum of justice. I realize that promoting real democracy in the middle east may be the least priority of any American administration, but if they do, they should work it out that way. Why? because Arab public opinion will always be skeptical of the US when it speaks of Human Rights as long as the Palestinians’ are violated. Because we spend so much money on defense we could have otherwise spent on development. Because when the animosity fades and the sense of outside threat diminishes, people will turn inward and will start figuring how to organize their own backyard.

February 24th, 2010, 6:35 pm


offended said:

Also, Dr. Elie (sorry for pronouncing your name wrong in the first post, can’t edit now), do you consider Sheikh Mohamed, the ruler of Dubai, to be a ‘benevolent dictator’ (or monarch?)?

February 24th, 2010, 6:39 pm


Ghat Albird said:


” So if you put everything on Islam and on Koranic teachings, then a peace with Israel is not possible.”

A definite “chutzpah” challenge.

A logical challenge to that view could be made by stating:-

“So if you put everything on the Jews claiming/teaching that they are God’s chosen people and have been granted “exclusive ownership of certain real estate” by Him then a peace with the Palestinian’s and for that matter all the Arab nations in the region is not possible”.

Or as the saying goes, whats sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,”

February 24th, 2010, 6:48 pm


norman said:

correct me if i am wrong , but from my understanding to what you said , is that the problem is not Islam as there are other democratic Muslim countries and that women were treated better during the prophet time than they are treated now with the example of the Prophet wife , It looks to me that is the problem is for the control that the religious leaders through Fatwas that they have on the Arab population and for that a good dictator like Ataturk , As ((Ehsani )) advocated once is needed to strip these leaders of their power so the Nation could advance , we saw that in the marriage law that was introduced in Syria , it was so bad that JAD took it on himself to tear it down and he did , more activism like that will push the leaders to get rid of the religious ones ,that are trying to keep the people down .
the only way that the leaders can advance their population and introduce democracy is by getting rid of the religious ones and for that they need a population who are sick of these people , It is difficult for our leaders when it comes to religion to be ahead of their population ,

February 24th, 2010, 7:03 pm


Elie Elhadj said:

Judging from Syria’s proposed draft new personal status law in May 2009, which like the existing law maintains Shari’a rules leads one to conclude that Syria is exploiting Islam. To allow in this day in age a man to marry four wives, divorce any of them at will, and equate two women in inheritance and as witness in a Shari’a court of law is breathtaking. The laws of such a country are not secular, despite attempts to claim otherwise.

Your article three years ago was excellent. Since Arab kings and president alike are non-representative non-participatory absolute rulers with the presidents striving to ensconce their children in the highest office, there will be little difference in governance if the republics are turned into monarchies.

Arab societies will evolve in a manner similar to Christian societies only if Muslim societies emulate Christian societies in separating religion from the state.

Kindly note the response to AKBAR PALACE above.
Demagoguery and outrageous dictums is not the preserve of one religion over the others. This is why religion should be removed from the laws of the state and should be confined to the individual as a personal choice.

1. Historical. Notwithstanding what you said about Arabian political culture the fact remains that in the harsh environment of the Arabian Desert, disobedience and strife could waste scarce water and staples and that the only way to preserve the meager assets in such a harsh environment is to avoid conflict by obeying those in authority.

Regarding your point that Islam has no pope it should be remembered that the ulama grew to control the details of every waking hour of Muslims tightly. Religious advice sections abound in newspapers, magazines, Islamic internet sites, television, and radio covering such issues as whether or not it is permissible to have a tattoo, color one’s hair, for a woman to thin or darken her eyebrows, wear a silk tie or a silk garment, wear a gold ring, how to greet a guest, what to say to a person who sneezes, what to eat, how to eat, etc.

The early ulama were the architects of the Islamic creed. They made the Prophetic Sunna a source of law equal to the Quran, opening the door wide for their control over Muslim life. Through this door, the ulama became the teachers, the preachers, the muftis, the judges, and the court officials–generally the guardians over Muslims’ behavior and morality.

Despite Quranic attacks on priesthood, Islam’s ulama thrust themselves into not only the spiritual life of Muslims, as Catholic priests do, but also go well beyond the spiritual realm into every detail of life’s temporal sphere.

It is curious that as the scope of the ulama’s influence grew, Protestantism stripped much of the Catholic priesthood of its obtrusive control and abuse of power. Christians, the followers of a religion based on priesthood, evolved under the Lutheran influence into a group that was less controlled by Christian clergy, while Muslims, the followers of a supposedly non-church-based religion, became controlled by the ulama class.

2. Current state of the Arab world. Just listen to Arab media and clerics’ sermons to realize that the religious message is to obey walii al-amr, right or wrong is loud and clear. This is a fact.

3. Confusion about democracy. Irrespective of democracy’s definition, Arab rulers do not allow free expression, or free elections. Democratic rule under any definition will end Arab dictators’ rule. The use of emergency laws, the army, and the security forces are supplemented by the threat of God’s damnation to keep the masses under control.

4. We are not ready theme. I really don’t see what the Sumerians have to do with this debate.

Arab rule is non-representative, non-participatory, corrupt, and mired in favoritism and nepotism. Arab rulers are not benevolent dictators. They are tyrants.

To achieve peace, the Bible and the Quran must be depoliticized. The Arab Israeli confrontation has become a religious war. Religious wars could last centuries. A single secular state for Arabs and Jews is the answer. For more on this issue:


February 24th, 2010, 8:59 pm


Ghat Albird said:


Kindly note the response to AKBAR PALACE above.
Demagoguery and outrageous dictums is not the preserve of one religion over the others. This is why religion should be removed from the laws of the state and should be confined to the individual as a personal choice

Since I only post to refute or compare a comment made. At this time its a request. Opinions or understandings of what is a democracy is as varied as possibly half the population of this planet.

In this instance I and others (hopefully) would be quite appreciative to your providing parallel discourse to yours, from the only, as per US media, democratic ally in the Middle East. Thanks in advance.

February 24th, 2010, 9:34 pm


nafdik said:


Leaving aside the flawed premise of your argument, how do you propose we go about finding the “benevolent” dictator?

1- Benevolence is in the eye of the beholder

For some Iranians Ahmadinajad is a prime example of such a man, for some Syrians Dr Assad is the model, for others it is Ahmed Chalabi.

I suspect what you mean by beenvolent is somebody who fits your political views.

2- Dictators need funding

They need to acquire and preserve power. Since they are dictators they clearly do not get power through the will of the people.

To acquire power they need to have access to sufficient means of violence to control events like Hama. In other words they need to pay for a full standing army to keep the people in their benevolent prison.

To pay for this army they need money that has to be stolen from the people directly or through the countries’ natural resources.

In other words you are suggesting that we fund our jailers rather than funding our schools and hospitals.

3- Dictators are unreliable

As humans they are subject to many problems, they could change their minds, die or be forced to change their mind to keep power.

So in the end once you have found your dictator, funded him and gave him the keys to your freedom you have left yourself, your children and grand-children with a totally unreliable outcome.

In any case please provide us with a historical case were giving a dictator power was a good move on the long term.

February 24th, 2010, 9:37 pm


Alex said:


Dr. Elhadj is not exactly a fan of dictatorship. I think what he wrote can be summarized this way: “if you insist on not separating religion from politics, then don’t hope for anything beyond a benevolent dictatorship”

If I may try to take the discussion again into a more practical direction…

Let us start by recognizing that every system has its pros and cons. Israel has a democracy for Israeli citizens, but that wonderful system is generating non coherent coalition governments that can not last long enough to deliver on their promises or to implement long term strategies.

But their economy is doing great and when their president Katsav is exposed for his sexual misconduct he resigns, and when their Prime Minister Olmert is accused of financial wrongdoing, he is investigated …

Great .. but then again … that democratic system … where people vote for whoever runs … is still producing some very unconventional, and inexperienced characters who currently lead Israel.

And that democracy is not translating into moral conduct. Israel’s democracy is the world’s top abuser of international law. (Don’t worry Shai, I won’t link the long list of UNSC resolutions) .. Israel is also one of the most violent countries… not to mention their 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners …

So … you still get corrupt politicians, low moral standards, and constant violence, but they are routinely investigated, and you get a robust economy and freedom of speech.

Lebanon’s democracy produced a Saudi financed leader who is surely not the best that the country can offer … and a national coalition government made up of ministers who are loyal to the wishes of a 3D matrix of leaders … 1) various religious leaders (like the Maronite Patriarch and Hassan Nasrallah), 2) various foreign leaders (like Saudi, Syrian, French, American, and Iranian leaders), and 3) to various warlords (Jumblatt, Geagea, Jumayel…) …

Iraq’s democracy comes from votes that are mostly formulated based on the wishes of Iraqi and Iranian religious leaders.

There is widespread corruption in Lebanon and Iraq.

In the United States, democracy means you get to choose between the two candidates of the same two parties … everyone agrees by now that “Yes we can” is a dream … real change is not possible in Washington, democracy or not.

So … let us be realistic here… “Democracy” is not necessarily the shortest (or right) road towards optimal progress.

What we need from our leaders is to get as close as possible to these targets:

1) Good enough economic growth (given a country’s limitations)
2) Rule of law
3) Minimal corruption
4) Freedom of speech
5) Human rights (women’s rights, religious rights, …etc)
6) National security (stability)
7) wise foreign policy + preservation of national dignity and strength.

In Syria’s case, we know from all opinion polls that President Assad is genuinely popular, he is probably more popular than any other leader in the region (including those democratically elected).

So we do not have a big problem there.

But the rest of the system is not as popular… it needs to be reformed.

Specifically, the economy is not growing as fast as we need it to, and corruption is not being dealt with in a convincing manner. Syria’s legal system is not respected by many and everyone knows that there are serious limitations to freedom of speech (if you want to promote political opposition).

It would be really unfair to deny that the United States has mostly played a very destructive role. Take the Hariri tribunal daily circus (and other daily pressure tactics from Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, France, and the Bush administration) they kept the Syrian president busy with for years … you don’t think that he could have advanced much faster in his planned reforms if they did not try to isolate him and weaken his country for years?

I am convinced that the United States CAN play a significant positive role in helping President Assad transform Syria into a much more successful state (given the lines of the seven achievable targets I listed above) … then gradually we can look at Syria’s readiness, and the region’s readiness, to move towards more classic “democracy”.

It is easy for some of you to simply dismiss my suggestion as an excuse for continued authoritarianism … but if you want to look at any practical steps that can be taken to improve the chances of Syria’s move towards more success (then “democracy) … I do not see how you can ignore the obvious American role.

February 24th, 2010, 10:58 pm


nafdik said:

Alex, I have no intention of discrediting Dr. Elhadj, simply replying to the idea expressed in the post.

The reason I spent a long time doing it is that he is the first who actually spelled out what many think and are too politically correct to say.

As to your thesis that gradual progress is the way to go in Syria. My opinion is that the foundation for Bashar power are based on the very things you want to reform. He is as able to reform the system as a man standing on a ladder is able to remove the ladder.

Assad’s popularity is impossible to measure as long as those who are against are unable to express their opinion. Logic and simple faith in my fellow Syrians tell me that they have not been domesticated yet into accepting life as the private property of a small clan.

Finally assuming Assad is both a saint and a magician, what happens if he falls ill? How do we know that his nephew, uncle, or brother who will then assume power is as saintly as him?

Would you like to bet the life of 20 Million people on that?

The obvious answer, is that we should do what we and every other successful country have done in the past. Fight for our freedom, and live with messy process called democracy and hopefully graduate in a generation or two into the productive part of humanity. I know it sounds complicated but hundreds of millions of people have done it before us.

February 24th, 2010, 11:23 pm


Alex said:


“He is as able to reform the system as a man standing on a ladder is able to remove the ladder.”

You are illustrating your point through a digital (on/off) example. Not the case in real life… there is no single “ladder” foundation (or table leg, if you remember one of my earlier articles).

Bashar’s support also comes from his ability to deliver stability (next to Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine) … safety and freedom to practice any religion to Syria’s minorities when Iraqi Christians are fleeing the country, successful foreign policy and preservation of national dignity (important, in Syria or in every country on earth) … And if the US (and its Saudi friends) want to help for a change, he can also deliver strong economic growth and hopefully many other reforms.

What I am proposing is that the US would stop shaking that ladder that you think he is standing on, but to provide him with more support as he gets rid of other kinds of support.

As for the risk of his failing health … I’ll take that risk for now Mr. Nafdik. Life is full of low-probability risks … it is better than your preferred risk of “Fight for our freedom, and live with messy process called democracy” .. a very high probability risk.

“messy” is not the right word Nafdik … bloody is more like it. UNTIL the Americans help us settle our conflicts in the Middle East … If they do, then I, and many other Syrians, will be more inclined to take some more risks for democracy.

For now … let’s wait until they start world war II after they attack Iran.

February 24th, 2010, 11:43 pm


Akbar Palace said:


Thank you for taking the time to answer all of our questions.

I agree with most of your statements and conclusions. I hope you can spend some more of your time on this website so we can continue to gain from such a valuable perspective.

February 25th, 2010, 12:21 am


nafdik said:


Again you are hoping for a miracle. give us your historical role models of dictators who gave up power after reforming the system that brought them into dictatorship.

As for waiting for America or Israel these sound to me like a fool’s errand that our regimes have been using for the last 2 generations.

February 25th, 2010, 12:30 am


jad said:

Dear Alex,
(For now … let’s wait until they start world war III after they attack Iran.)
I have similar feeling. The sad thing of this scenario is that the Arab countries (the Gulf and the Levant ones) are going to be the biggest looser since whatever the results of this war are the winner will divide this region again in the way they want and we don’t have a say in that, it’s Sykes-Picot allover again.

February 25th, 2010, 12:39 am


Majhool said:


Ya habibi, why do you keep establishing a link between reform and America’s attitude towards Bashar?? You have done this twice in this post.

The Syrian people are not orphans or slaves to one person. Our destiny should never be tied to Bashar or any one else.

Also, and I apologize for being redundant, Bashar’s popularity in the region should not be an indicator of his popularity at home. Let me assure you that if my 15 year old niece runs against him in a fair election in syria that she would beat him.

This talk about popularity genuineness and trust are just “make-believe” in my opinion.


February 25th, 2010, 12:46 am


Alex said:

“The pressure on the Syrian regime now is much stronger now than it’s been for decades … It is ‘showtime’ for Syria”

Jack Straw, 4 Jan, 2006


I am not hoping for a miracle (and I hope you are not with your “messy” democracy route). I am just explaining to our American readers that their country (and its wonderful coalitions) continue to contribute to the slowing down of reforms in Syria … just try to estimate the number of hours the Syrian President spent between 2003 and 2008 thinking about what needs to be done to deal with the daily “pressure” and “isolation” that Washington and its allies championed with incredible vigor.

Imagine all the reform files and folders that were not opened because they had to wait for years until Rumsfeld, Straw, Chirac, Bolton, Jumblatt, Bandar, and Bush and Cheney relaxed.


When there is talk of attacking Iran next year, and talk of Israeli action against Hezbollah and Lebanon … again, a byproduct would be that no Arab leader will say “this sounds like the perfect time to introduce more uncertainty into the system and to have fun revolutionizing our system of government!”


Ya habibi, even if all the Arabs are choosing Bashar in many opinion polls over their own leaders, you will still believe that your 15 year old niece would make a better president.

You are sectarian habibi .. hopeless case. You are saying that because your 15 year old niece is Sunni, Bashar will lose to her.

Time for my dinner. I’ll be back tomorrow.

February 25th, 2010, 1:25 am


nafdik said:


You fail to understand that the US does not give a horses ass about reforms in Syria, nor should they. This is an internal Syrian matter and only we care/are able to do anything about it.

There are 4 schools of thought in the US:

Imperialists (Reagan)- Syria should be manipulated to expand US influence in the region

Rapturists (Bush II)- Syria should be combated to facilitate the second (Christians) or first (Jews) coming of of the redeemer

Isolationists (Ron Paul)- Syrians and Israelis are crazy let them fight it out

Realists (Obama, Bush I)- Imperialists in sheeps clothing

I love the mental image you create of reforms sitting in folders and then the mood of our beloved leader is spoiled because Jumblat does an interview so he delays opening the folder for a couple of days.

February 25th, 2010, 1:38 am


jad said:

You sound too fixed on the dictator persona and missing the whole point of the fundamental religious flaws that Dr. Elie wrote about.

With or without a good, bad, fair, tyrant, liberal, conservative, blond, burnet, fair skin, dark skin, tall, short, fat, skinny, good looking, ugly, Sunni or Shia dictator we won’t be able to get over GOD’s sovereignty until we separate religion from state.

The existing power of backward religion over the Arab political and personal sphere is too strong and where science, philosophy, freedom and dialogue doesn’t really exist and encouraged, true democracy won’t live, it doesn’t have the root to grow, it won’t happen, it didn’t happen during the peak golden age of the Arab empire and it defiantly won’t happen during the tin age of Arabs. Everything that might look similar to the idea of democracy we see in our Arab world today is nothing but fake beautification waiting for its next coup d’état to take it off.

Dear Alex,
What are you having for diner? Are we invited?

February 25th, 2010, 1:39 am


nafdik said:

errata, in my previous comment please read “doesn’t give a rat’s ass” which better illustrates the case as rats have very small asses 🙂

February 25th, 2010, 1:56 am


nafdik said:


You are absolutely right, I am fixated by the dictator idea as it is the main feature of the political life in Syria. Freedom is something I cherish and I have no pleasure in seeing my country run by a family mob.

As for separation of religion and state here is where I differ with the thrust of those who advocate it as a pre-requisite to democracy.

The argument boils down to this:

– I like idea X
– The majority of my countrymen do not like idea X
– We will have a dictator until the majority accepts X

What is amusing about this whole debate is that the same conversation where here the dictator’s supporters use

X= Separate_religion_from_state

is for sure raging in Saudi and Iranian blogs where well intentioned young men are advising to support the king or the supreme leader because

X = Protect_our_muslim_identity_form_the_kuffar

The Xs are many but the argument remains the same.

February 25th, 2010, 2:13 am


Majhool said:


I don’t appreciate you calling me “Sectarian”

For one thing, it goes against the rules of this forum. For another I am disappointed. I expected that you would present evidence that Bashar is indeed popular in Syria and not somewhere else, and that if he runs a fair election that he would possibly win. The regime uses the same logic against those who question its narrow legitimacy. How many innocent Syrians were jailed, tortured, and killed on such pretext?

February 25th, 2010, 2:44 am


trustquest said:

Dr. Elhadj, you made me feel sorry for what I thought of your article, but your explanations in #26 and #37 does not match what on your article which favored benevolent dictators and if I stand by what I said I serve your explaination, hopefully.
Yossi, thanks for your #24, you have explained what I was trying to write eloquently, especially the idea of casting all Monarch and dictators in the same boat.

There is a common thesis in the current leaders of this area, do nothing because they do not have bowls to get onto any challenge, the only challenge they are taken on is their own people, how to enslave the populace into submission, but I think the power of change and anger is simmering under those leaders hegemony.

It is not only the personal status law, recently, the dictator issued a decree pardoned criminals and crime committed before Feb 23, 2010, he excluded the political prisoners and prisoners of conscious, the message is, you can steal you can commit crime and get pardoned but if you mouth the president (the young president or his wife), or if you criticize our domestic or foreign policy or acts, you will be rottened in prison.

Take another shot at the recent imprisonment of human rights leader Haitham Elmaleh just because he opened his mouth and spoke his opinion when he asked on opposition channel, he is now in prison. The recent accusation against him is that in prison he in words insulted the president, by fabricating that with their informer and consider it a crime they have reached new low. The lesson to all people, do not dare to open your mouth and even hint of our badness.

February 25th, 2010, 3:24 am


Averroes said:

Dr. ElHadj,

Excellent article, and thank you Dr. Landis for this post. Although it is a huge subject, probably too large for a forum platform. Like OTW, Observer53, and the other friends here I’m encouraged to read your books.

The fundamental core of Islam is the freedom from worshiping idols. This is in fact a very deep principle, as idols are not just the simple statues we’ve been led to believe they are. Just as idols are our own creation, so too are our own ill conceptions, paradigms, and powerful rulers (Taghout). The Qur’an is full with ayas that encourage the implementation of reason, judgment, justice, and never to worship authority. The Qur’an diagnoses the central issues of previous religions in that “they took their Rabbis and Priests for gods”, a clear discouragement from surrendering your destiny to the “scholars”. The stories of the prophets are stripped from a lot of the historical details that you find in the Bible to focus on the core issues, the most supreme of which being not to bow your head blindly to human authority, no matter how powerful it may come down as.

Unfortunately for all of us, Islam was hijacked, and that core and very powerful message has pretty much been subdued and replaced by simplistic interpretations of the Qur’an, questionable Hadiths that encourage blind obedience of the ruler as you observe, as well as other Hadiths that discourage reform, renewal, and most dangerously, declare death as the rightful punishment for “Kufr” (public non conformity). Later, “zandaqah” (blasphemy) was added to a list of death-legitimizing acts.

Mo’awiya was probably the first to use false Hadiths as a political tool to legitimize butchery against his political enemies, but later the Abbasids, with more time and stability, forged it all into what we know today as Sunni Islam, the predominant form of Islam globally.

And indeed, death was used, with great savagery against political challengers (or perceived ones) for the prime purpose of obtaining and preserving absolute power, and as you say, the Ulama, the Muslim’s own Rabbis and Priests, institutionalized that corrupt implementation of Islam. History books are full with stories of Islamic scholars who were tortured, maimed, or killed for refusing to bow to the illegitimate power of the rulers.

The result of all of that, is that we do not have a School of Islam that is truly free and independent of the terrible political influences of the past (or present, for that matter). Who has the guts to even question the 5,500 Hadiths narrated by Abou-Hurairah, for instance, even though some of them come at a direct opposite with some very clear Qur’anic verses? A brave Egyptian scholar (from within the “Sunni” school) has been re-examining the classical Islamic heritage for the last 30 years, and as expected, he has had to flee the Arab World to the US, where he now lives.

Muslims and Arabs love their religion. There are many great things about it, I think, by any measure. However, a combination of intense affection, fear of God’s Wrath, fear of the death fatwas that are ever so abundant, and the lack of a credible “Islamic” alternative that is keeping a lot of people at bay and preventing a much needed organized effort of reform. It’s fear, more than any other single factor, and some Arab monarchies have invested billions of dollars to ensure that this fear is established, fed, and nourished. It is a very potent and powerful combination that harvests the souls of millions of people, and I agree with you Dr. Hadj, it could last for hundreds of years into the future (although I don’t expect it.)

The change, however, cannot come from outside, and cannot come by force. If Muslim countries are attacked, people will further close up and become susceptible to manipulation by the rulers and the clerics. The change has to come from within.

For such a change to come, you need some ingredients: you need a powerful, stable state, a rich Islamic heritage within that stage, the will and courage to take on that monumental task, and the means to follow it through and make a difference. Right now, no Arab state has those ingredients. I understand that you think that Syria has the best chance of being home to a potential Muslim Martin Luther. However, I think I would disagree with you, as Syria does not have all the required ingredients. I think that the most likely country for that will be Arabia, if and when Al Saud rule is overthrown, of course. Egypt would be my second choice, and Syria the third.

Until then, you’re probably right: a full, thriving Arab democracy is most likely a fantasy.

February 25th, 2010, 4:20 am


jad said:

In your equation you are missing the biggest element of all; GOD.
Just add this to your equation to see what I mean when I say that Democracy has no chance to win in any of our Arab society:

– I like idea X1
– The majority of my countrymen do not like idea X1, they like idea X2
– GOD through the religious clergy tells ‘me’ and ‘the majority’ that X2 is better than X1
– With or without a dictator, X1 will always win and X2 will never have the chance to be heard or to be debated? ‘I’ will be either in jail or dead.


February 25th, 2010, 5:33 am


jad said:

In my previous comment I mixed the Xs…Sorry!

February 25th, 2010, 6:08 am


Elie Elhadj said:

May I return to your important statement: “In the same place that great philosophers, algebraists, astronomers, craftsmen and traders were created, while Europeans were building huts out of mud, free people could once again lead in scholarship and achievement.”

What you said is true. However, we should put the achievement of that era in the proper context so that we avoid deceiving ourselves.

The momentum for the great Muslim civilization of the Arab empire evolved during the first three centuries or so after the death of the Prophet. During this period the Islamic creed was in the process of development, the ulama were divided, and their influence was weak. Consequently, intellectual debate was vibrant and philosophical reasoning robust. The great Mu’tazilite School, for example, which was born and flourished during this period placed reason above revelation, argued that the Quran was created, and advocated man’s free will. By contrast, Europe was plunged in darkness under a dictatorial church.

Around the later part of the tenth century, as the Islamic creed matured, the door to individual philosophical reasoning to interpret the Quran and the Sunna and to form new religious opinions (ijtihad) was shut to Sunni Muslims. Also, the Baghdad caliphate became a puppet in the hands of a succession of Persian and Turkish generals. After the Mongols destroyed in 1258 the Arab empire, the Ottoman sultans allowed the Sunni ulama a prominent official role in their empire.

The Ottoman Empire’s existence (1280-1918) coincided with the five centuries during which Western Europe experienced its Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment. By the early 1500s, the European Renaissance and Martin Luther’s revolution planted the seeds of the modern age in Europe. The church was separated from the state, and the individual was liberated from the dogmatic clergy. This separation removed the rigid boundaries that the church had imposed on European imagination for the previous thousand years.

Removing the church’s control was among the factors that led to the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s. This revolution changed the balance of power between Islam and Christendom. This era coincided with the Muslim era of stagnation, when intellectual curiosity was smothered and innovation discouraged to accord with Ahadith against innovation (see my earlier comment). In the 1800s, Sultan Mahmut II (1808-1839) and his successor son, Sultan Abdulmecit (1839-1861) tried to copy certain secular reforms from Europe, but it was too late. In 1918, Europe destroyed the Ottoman Empire and dominated the Muslim world.

Thanks for a well-reasoned articulate comment.

Thank you.

In comment 40 below, Alex summarized my position aptly: “if you insist on not separating religion from politics, then don’t hope for anything beyond a benevolent dictatorship.”

For democracy to evolve in Arab societies, religious reform must come first.
How likely is it that benevolent dictatorships might replace Arab rulers’ tyranny? As I indicated above, the answer is that since benevolent dictatorship does not evolve institutionally there is no predictable pattern to discern here. There might be a coup d’état by a benevolent dictator tomorrow; or, there might not be one, ever.

It is curious to note that while blind obedience to Muslim hierarchical authority is made by Arab rulers and their palace ulama to be an intrinsic part of Islam and a form of piety, one can also find in certain Prophetic Hadiths a golden nugget; namely, support for the creation of representative democracy. However, regrettably, no Arab ruler or a member of their palace ulama would allow such a “dangerous” subject into the open because it might expedite the end their non-representative dictatorships. Through the invocation of certain Hadith traditions, as reported by at least three canonical Hadith collectors, one can argue that the Prophet had advocated the creation of elected legislative chambers akin to Western parliaments and that such elected legislative chambers can enact modern laws, even change Shari’a laws. It may further be argued that Muslim countries that hinder the emergence of such elected legislative chambers would be in violation of Islam.

Your summary of the discussion is absolutely correct. Thanks.

I have no support whatsoever to any form of governance other than that which is purely representative and participatory. Alex, in comment 40 summarized my position here aptly: “if you insist on not separating religion from politics, then don’t hope for anything beyond a benevolent dictatorship.”


February 25th, 2010, 6:34 am


Elie Elhadj said:

What a delight, indeed, it was for me to have read your comment. I agree with every thing that you said. Thank you for this wise perspective.


February 25th, 2010, 7:07 am


Observer said:

I usually avoid reading the posts of the Middle Eastern “experts” but being posted on SC, I hoped this will be different. Sadly, it is not. Very static appropach that seeks to convince us that there is something called “Arab or Muslim menatility” which includes billions of people throughout the world. Contrasting this imagined system with another imagined “global system” which exists only in the US and Western Europe (unless Mr. Hadj think that Africa and Asia are democracies) and obviously this Arab or Muslim mentality is set in stone and the proof comes from excerpts from the Quran. Typical (and pretty bad) orientalist apprach.

February 25th, 2010, 11:40 am


Akbar Palace said:

Tears for Fears

Averroes said:

However, a combination of intense affection, fear of God’s Wrath, fear of the death fatwas that are ever so abundant, and the lack of a credible “Islamic” alternative that is keeping a lot of people at bay and preventing a much needed organized effort of reform.

Averroes, Elie,

Why do you suppose there are all these “fears” in the Arab world that are “keeping a lot of people at bay”, yet, when it comes to Israel, no one is concerned about dying, giving up their life, or starting a war?

February 25th, 2010, 12:14 pm


Averroes said:


I believe we’re talking about separate issues here. We’re talking about the factors that are keeping Arab Muslims at bay when it comes to the advancement of democracy. This issue would be there whether Israel was in the picture or not.

If anything, Israel is probably in the same boat as the corrupt Arab rulers, who feed and thrive on the collective passiveness of the Arab masses (which we’re trying to explain). Maintaining the status-quo of subdued masses with little say is in the best interest of an aggressive Israel that want to hold on to occupied land and legitimize severe injustice.

February 25th, 2010, 1:51 pm


Ghat Albird said:

A different (intro)perspective to the realities of wether one is demo or not.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why Neocons Hate Muslims
by Jacob G. Hornberger

While there has been much discussion over why Muslims hate Americans, much less attention has been given to why neocons hate Muslims. While it might be true that some neocons hate Muslims for their religious and cultural values, I think there is a better explanation for their hatred. I think the real reason that neocons want to kill Muslims so badly is that people in the Middle East, who are predominately Muslim, have refused to accept the domination of the U.S. Empire, especially in the aftermath of the Cold War, when the U.S. became the world’s sole remaining empire. That refusal has earned them the everlasting enmity of American neocons.

Think about the U.S. invasions and regime-change operations in Grenada and Panama. Once they were completed, the citizens of both of those countries meekly accepted the new order of things. They quickly embraced the newly installed pro-U.S. regimes. No terrorist attacks. No violent insurgencies in either country. Instead, full and complete acceptance of the new world order.

Not so, however, in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both countries, large numbers of people have refused to do what the people of Grenada and Panama did. Instead, Iraqis and Afghanis have refused to kowtow to the Empire. In both countries, both men and women have refused to accept its invasions, occupations, and regime-change operations. Countless Iraqis and Afghanis have even been willing to sacrifice their lives in resistance to the foreign interference with their countries, much as they did when the British Empire and the Soviet Empire invaded Iraq and Afghanistan in the past.

Consider Iraq. After the Persian Gulf War, the U.S. Empire imposed possibly the most brutal sanctions in history on the Iraqi people. Year after year, Iraqi children were dying from infectious illnesses arising from untreated water and sewage owing to the inability to repair water-and-sewage treatment plants that the Pentagon had intentionally destroyed during the war.

Why did U.S. officials continue the sanctions year after year for more than 10 years knowing that they were causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children? Because the Iraqi people, most of whom happened to be Muslim, obstinately refused to comply with U.S. demands to oust Saddam Hussein from power. For that obstinacy, they needed to be punished. That’s what the sanctions were all about. (See this link for a compendium of excellent articles on the sanctions on Iraq.)

U.S. officials emphasized that the sanctions would be lifted once Iraqis complied with U.S. demands to oust Saddam from power and install a pro-U.S. regime. Even though the sanctions never succeeded in ousting Saddam from power.


when “Sixty Minutes” asked U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children had been worth it, she replied that such deaths were, in fact, “worth it.”

After all, what better way to punish people for recalcitrance to the Empire than to maintain a system that kills their children? (See “Albright Apologizes” by Sheldon Richman.)

Consider Iran. The reason that neocons hate Iran is the independence that Iran shows toward the Empire. If the Iranian regime were to adopt the subservient and obedient attitude toward the Empire that, say, Libyan military strongman and terrorist Mohammar Qadaffi has adopted or, for that matter, that the pro-U.S. Shah of Iran adopted, everything would be hunky dory.

The neocon mindset about Muslims is much like the mindset of plantation owners in the Old South. As long as the slaves were obedient, respectful, and subservient, everything was fine. Oh, sure, slaves would periodically complain about their condition in life but, by and large, such complaints were considered acceptable. What was not acceptable was resistance and opposition to slavery itself, especially when it turned violent. That was when a message had to be sent. Such an uppity attitude simply could not be tolerated.

And that’s the way neocons view Muslims in the Middle East. They’re just too uppity. Like the slaves in the Old South, it was incumbent on the people in those countries to accept the new world order after the fall of the Berlin Wall. When the U.S. Empire spoke, they were supposed to listen, submit, and obey.

But as we all know — from the attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993, the attacks on the USS Cole, the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the attacks on 9/11, and the violent resistance to the occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan — there are people in the Middle East, who just happen to be Muslim, who, unlike the citizenry of Grenada and Panama, have refused to submit to the Empire and obey its commands. And that is what has earned them the everlasting hatred of the neocons.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

February 25th, 2010, 2:13 pm


nafdik said:

Dr Elhadj,

I reread your article carefully to make sure I understand your point.

In your conclusion you say:

“Since democratic governance is unlikely to grow in Arab soil, an alternative would be benevolent dictatorship. Except for its non-representative nature, benevolent dictatorship could deliver participatory rule, ensure justice for all, fight corruption, nepotism, sectarianism and tribalism.”

Are you not suggestion that we should support such a dictator and even help him reach power?

Your article seem to be pointing in this direction as you seem to say that logical discourse will not convince Arabs to change their attitude and it can only be done with the 3asaye.

Please clarify.

February 25th, 2010, 2:39 pm


nafdik said:


I understand your point and the fact that it is frustrating to discuss with those who have a fixed dogma be they ultra-nationalist, religious, communist, etc.

However, the idea of democracy is that while the majority can be wrong on many issues, the democratic process is the best method of reaching agreement and has proven to be quite robust (while sometimes slow) and allows for people to fix their errors over time.

Take the US for example, 95% of whites were extremely racist at the time of the revolution. One could have said that a dictator is required to brain-wash racism out of the people, and thus we have to wait until Americans are not racist to build the republic.

Of course democracy has to be protected from being democratically self-destructed through the will of the people as happened in Germany during Nazi reign, and is happening in Iran and Venezuela today. This can only be done by instilling a democratic mind-set in us that will counter all varieties of we-need-a-dictator-because-we-have-to-fix-X.

To go back to God debate, I think that dictators as hard as they tried were unable to fix this problem for the last 50 years. In fact by posing as secularists they give a big boost to the religious movements.

Syria and Iraq are living experiments that show the failure of secularism imposed by dictatorship state. You are only building a time-bomb.

February 25th, 2010, 2:54 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Issue of Passivity

Averroes replied:


I believe we’re talking about separate issues here. We’re talking about the factors that are keeping Arab Muslims at bay when it comes to the advancement of democracy. This issue would be there whether Israel was in the picture or not.

Yes, they are 2 different issues, but both issues result in bodily harm: action against the non-democratic government, and action against Israel. As you said, there seems to be a great “fear” of action against the former, and little fear from the latter. Perhaps it is not a question of “fear”, but a question of “interest” or “motivation”.

If anything, Israel is probably in the same boat as the corrupt Arab rulers, who feed and thrive on the collective passiveness of the Arab masses (which we’re trying to explain). Maintaining the status-quo of subdued masses with little say is in the best interest of an aggressive Israel that want to hold on to occupied land and legitimize severe injustice.

I don’t believe the Arab “masses” are “subdued” when it comes to Israel. The Arab “masses” seem to take great interest in what Israel does and the Arab governments and media reward such interest and action. So, from my vantage point, I do not see a “collective passiveness” in this regard.

Let’s take your statement above as an example. You said:

…an aggressive Israel that want to hold on to occupied land and legitimize severe injustice.

Although Israeli-Arabs have more rights than the average arab, and although Gaza was returned in its entirety, and although the PA was created to govern a majority of the West Bank, the only remaining issue is the final borders and issues of sovereignty with a future State of Palestine. Yet, while this should logically be negotiated between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the Arab and muslim world is one spark away from another “all-out” war with Israel and all the harm it can potentially cause.

Conversely, when discussing the issue of demonstrating for more rights in a typical Arab country, there seems to be no interest. Or is it really a “fear” like you have stated? I believe there is no interest. Naturally, and IMHO, Arabs should take more interest in improving their own government, than trying to force a resolution or destroy another country outside their own.

February 25th, 2010, 4:03 pm


Ghat Albird said:



A fellow at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Martin Kramer, has called for “the West” to take measures to curb the births of Palestinians, a proposal that appears to meet the international legal definition of a call for genocide.

Kramer, who is also a fellow at the influential Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), made the call early this month in a speech at Israel’s Herzliya conference, a video of which is posted on his blog (“Superfluous young men,” 7 February 2010).

In the speech Kramer rejected common views that Islamist “radicalization” is caused by US policies such as support for Israel, or propping up despotic dictatorships, and stated that it was inherent in the demography of Muslim societies such as Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip.

“Too many children, he argued, leads to too many “superfluous young men”
who then become violent radicals.

Kramer proposed that the number of Palestinian children born in the Gaza Strip should be deliberately curbed, and alleged that this would “happen faster if the West stops providing pro-natal subsidies to Palestinians with refugee status.”

Due to the Israeli blockade, the vast majority of Palestinians in Gaza are now dependent on UN food aid. Neither the UN, nor any other agencies, provide Palestinians with specifically “pro-natal subsidies.” Kramer appeared to be equating any humanitarian assistance at all with inducement for Palestinians to reproduce.

He added, “Israel’s present sanctions on Gaza have a political aim — undermine the Hamas regime — but if they also break Gaza’s runaway population growth, and there is some evidence that they have, that might begin to crack the culture of martyrdom which demands a constant supply of superfluous young men.” This, he claimed, would be treating the issue of Islamic radicalization “at its root.”

The 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, created in the wake of the Nazi holocaust, defines genocide to include measures “intended to prevent births within” a specific “national, ethnic, racial or religious group.”

The Weatherhead Center at Harvard describes itself as “the largest international research center within Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.” In addition to his positions at Harvard and WINEP, Kramer is “president-designate” of Shalem College in Jerusalem, a far-right Zionist institution that aspires to be the “College of the Jewish People.”

Pro-Israel speakers from the United States often participate in the the Herzliya conference, an influential annual gathering of Israel’s political and military establishment. This year’s conference was also addressed by The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and, in a first for a Palestinian official, by Salam Fayyad, appointed prime minister of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.

Kramer’s call to prevent Palestinian births reflects a long-standing Israeli and Zionist concern about a so-called “demographic threat” to Israel, as Palestinians are on the verge of outnumbering Israeli Jews within Israel, and the occupied Palestinian territories combined.

Such extreme racist views have been aired at the Herzliya conference in the past. In 2003, for example, Dr. Yitzhak Ravid, an Israeli government armaments expert, called on Israel to “implement a stringent policy of family planning in relation to its Muslim population,” a reference to the 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel.

February 25th, 2010, 4:47 pm


Off the Wall said:

Are we by any chance mixing between benevolent, well-intentioned, or forward looking. Benevolent dictatorship is a mythical construct. It can not exist due to human nature, societal factors, and group dynamics.

On the one hand, while in south america, most military juntas assumed power to protect the interests of the elite and foreign companies (read that colonialism), republican dictatorships in the Arab world had their roots in liberation, national, and social justice movement. On the other hand, all republican (i.e., military based) dictators, assumed power with a the national welfare as their primary declared objective. This in fact is their primary claim to legitimacy in their own eyes. Whether it is to put a halt to a chaotic situation on the street, recover national pride after losing a war, or maintain national unity in the face of impending civil war, the first act of any dictator upon arriving to power is to remove all existing mechanisms of accountability (e.g. dissolve parliament, enact draconian marshal laws) , and their second act would be to embark on a campaign to pacify potential opposition. After all, in their own eyes, they have the national interests all figured out, and opposition to them is nothing short of national treason.

Taking a personal risk of appearing as an elitist, one would argue that the vast majority of commenter on this site are intellectuals. We all want to see progress be it scientific, social, economic, cultural, legal, or you name it. Like all intellectuals, we believe that individually and collectively, we also have it figured out, and that our nations, only if they listen to us, will be well on their way to achieving that progress. However, we know (in fact we perceive) that our people are plagued with superstitions, bad habits, rigid religions, sectarianism, and that if things are left to them to decide, they will revert to chaos, and they may come up with a system not to our liking. Thus our easy way out solution is to have a dictator, or better yet, a junta of selfless, enlightened, and well intentioned charismatic men and women with absolute powers, to keep the streets clean, the building nice, the public space manicured, and to make sure that our folks wear western cloths and appear happy, polite,and beautiful on the streets, or to embody whatever image we perceive progress to be. And for most of us, especially Syrians, we have Iraq to point the fingers at as a striking example of the chaos and of the horror of leaving things to our sectarian, ignorant masses.

No dictator can govern alone, she/he needs money (exorbitant taxes, or alliance with wealthy, resource extraction economy), enforcement mechanisms ( multiple security agencies), and tools to brush inconvenient facts under the rug (propaganda). Furthermore, one needs to differentiate between participation in decision making through referendum, and the establishment of systems of accountability. Democracy requires as much accountability as it requires participation. In fact, participation is a tool to ensure accountability, which is intolerable to any authoritative system, benevolent or otherwise. Under any authoritarian system, the risk of abuse is no longer a risk (entails probability) but a deterministic inevitability.

A question begs itself, does Iraq represent a natural example of what happens when an Arab nation gets rid of the dictator. Few would say yes. What is happening in Iraq is no more no less that the result of the arrogant, mean intentioned plan of the neocons as executed by no one less than a war criminal (Bremmer). And we have discussed that many times over. Sectarianism in Iraq was initiated by the occupation, it was enshrined in the new constitution, which was drafted under the guns of occupiers and in manners to serve the expediency by the Bush administration desperate need to demonstrate progress in the midst of one of the greatest debacles in modern history. Let us not draw the wrong conclusions from Iraq. Iraq is not a demonstration of the failure of the Arabs or Muslims, Iraq is a pure demonstration of the banality of occupation, foreign intervention, and neo-colonialist theories.

وللحديث بقيه

February 25th, 2010, 5:09 pm


nafdik said:

Off The Wall,

Your analysis is spot on.

I would like to add one element to the Iraq situation, the chaos is due to the blundering American invasion, but the conditions for chaos and the reason the invasion was permitted to happen in the first place are a direct result of Saddam rule.

February 25th, 2010, 5:31 pm


Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Dear Elie,

The characteristics you give to the ‘benevolent dictator’, resemble the 10 points that philosopher Abu Hamid al-Ghazali describes the rule of the Caliph:

1. The ruler should understand the importance and danger of the authority entrusted to him. In authority there is great blessing, since he who exercises it righteously obtained unsurpassed happiness but if any ruler fails to do so he incurs torment surpassed only by the torment for unbelief.
2. The ruler should always be thirsting to meet devout religious scholars and ask them for advice.
3. The ruler should understand that he must not covet the wives of other men and be content with personally refraining from injustice, but must discipline his slave-troops, servants, and officers and never tolerate unjust conduct by them; for he will be interrogated not only about his own unjust deeds but also about those of his staff.
4. The ruler should not be dominated by pride; for pride gives rise to the dominance of anger, and will impel him to revenge. Anger is the evil genius and blight of the intellect. If anger is becoming dominant it will be necessary for the ruler in all his affairs to bend his inclinations in the direction of forgiveness and make a habit of generosity and forbearance unless he is to be like the wild beasts.
5. In every situation that arises, the ruler should figure that he is the subject and the other person is the holder of authority. He should not sanction for others anything that he would not sanction for himself. For if he would do so he would be making fraudulent and treasonable use of the authority entrusted to him.
6. The ruler should not disregard the attendance of petitioners at his court and should beware of the danger of so doing. He should solve the grievances of the Muslims.
7. The ruler should not form a habit of indulging the passions. Although he might dress more finely or eat more sumptuously, he should be content with all that he has; for without contentment, just conduct will not be possible.
8. The ruler should make the utmost effort to behave gently and avoid governing harshly.
9. The ruler should endeavor to keep all the subjects pleased with him. The ruler should not let himself be so deluded by the praise he gets from any who approach him as to believe that all the subjects are pleased with him. On the contrary, such praise is entirely due to fear. He must therefore appoint trustworthy persons to carry on espionage and inquire about his standing among the people, so that he may be able to learn his faults from men’s tongues.
10. The ruler should not give satisfaction to any person if a contravention of God’s law would be required to please him for no harm will come from such a person’s displeasure.


And it is clear that the ‘benevolent dictator’ will harness Islam and Islamic law to serve his needs. So in fact, although you want to limit or reduce the influence of religion, the move towards B-D will boost religion and the influence of religion.

Your Benevolent Dictator will quickly become ‘Commander of the Faithful’.

February 25th, 2010, 6:03 pm


Majhool said:


I loved what you wrote.

I feel it’s as “neocon-ish” to use Iraq as an example of what will happen if Syria loses its dictatorship. Let alone other lame excuses such as

-Syrians are “sectarian”, if they had to choose they would choose a sunni leader??!!!!
-If Syrians vote they will elect Islamists and those will massacre all the minorities
-the leader is too busy with other stuff.
-The preconditions to reforms are:
*Peace with Israel
*America’s blessing
-Jut wait for one more year for every year. What’s another year?

February 25th, 2010, 6:15 pm


Leo Leoni said:

Dr. Elie,

I have read most of your articles that are published on your website. I am very interested with what you write and now I am very curious to buy your book. But when I checked out your book on amazon, it stated that the price for a new book is $25.95. May I know why the high price on the book given that it is less than 300 pages long. Also do you plan on coming out with new editions? Do you have plans on writing new books?

February 25th, 2010, 7:17 pm


jad said:

Dearest OTW,
Excellent way to write about the Dictator dilemma and I do agree with you that no dictator can govern alone, the problem is that we don’t have the establishment of any clear system that we can build over, but (the famous Syrian word, But) all that doesn’t change the fact that the majority of us ARAB blindly follow religion more than anything else and we still have lots of men and women between us manipulate this point including Governments/Systems/Regimes and they, unfortunately, attract lots of people, not only the uneducated ones, but even doctors, lawyers and engineers to their twisted cult. The sad thing is that we also have a huge percentage of reasonable people between us but we don’t hear them when needed and those who we should depend on the most to speak out if we want to move forward. As Norman mentioned in his comment about supporting the middle class, not only the financial meaning of the ‘middle’ but also the intellectual and liberal ones.

You asked:
“does Iraq represent a natural example of what happens when an Arab nation gets rid of the dictator.”
For Syria (GOD FORBID), I don’t think it will be as bad as Iraq regarding this issue, we are capable of doing that nevertheless, but it won’t be as bloody. (Are you reading about all kind of crimes happening in Syria in the last year or so? They are hideous and very unusual for our society)
I also agree with Nafdik that Saddam’s rules were one of the main reasons for what we saw in Iraq of course along the American occupation and their manipulation of the leadership, however, through history, old and new, Iraqis are known for their harsh and rough personality, women and men, while Syrians through history too are also known for their diplomacy and light hearted nature as long as it doesn’t take anything from their pride.
Late President Hafez Assad, wasn’t as brutal as Saddam when it comes to the Syrian public or the ‘Junta’, he was more diplomatic and less aggressive, even with the MB, he waited for couple years before Hama disaster.
And yes, my friend Majhool, the Islamists (MB) did massacre the minorities and even many Muslims who don’t agree with them, they will do it again if they could and they have a clear agenda of how to deal with minorities and their oppositions if they get to power, we both know what their spiritual leaders teach them, it is not a fiction. And the Syrian minorities as well as the liberals have the right to feel afraid of such radical ideology to come to power, right?

We also have Lebanon example, even the Lebanese, with their westernized and open minded mentality ‘Brobaganda’ they did what the Iraqis are doing today to each others, they didn’t have a dictatorship at the time but they had the foreign manipulations factor that made things worst. We have a bloody history to learn from, and as Shai write, we read history but we never learn it.

Rambling all that, I still think that we have the issue of our religious society. We can’t build a working system based on communication, respect, transparency and science value if we don’t update our religious views and better understand the root of those issues that pulling us back instead of pushing our nations and societies forward.

February 25th, 2010, 7:40 pm


nafdik said:

Dr Landis,

We need to attract more diverse voices to the blog. We have not heard from a single person who is advocating an Islamic republic, even though the commentators seem to think that this is the majority of Syrians.

February 25th, 2010, 8:15 pm


Majhool said:

Dear Jad,

You know very well that I share your distrust and dislike to any religious political party. However, this fear is sometimes blown out of proportion. Violent Islamists are mainly a product of political vacuum (lack of participation), which is propelled by the dictator. The dictator and violent Islamists are two monsters that feed on each other. I have full trust in the Syrian people that if they had to choose they would chose reasonable leaders that are tolerant. We cannot freeze progress just because of fear of the unknown . The diplomatic Assad murdered 20,000 syrians and fed hate, fear, and snakes (literary) to teenage Syrians. To me that’s beyond intent.


The policy of this forum as executed is to try and bully those that are outspoken against the monopoly of power in Syria. With some exceptions

February 25th, 2010, 9:16 pm


jad said:

Dear Majhool,
I know very well that we share too many views and we disagree on couple.
I agree that “The dictator and violent Islamists are two monsters that feed on each other.”
I also share your trust in ‘Syrian people that if they had to choose they would chose reasonable leaders that are tolerant’

The fear comes from not having a solid system of citizenship, and as long as the system is built on religion, this fear will always stay and it will grow according to how much the religion manipulates the system.

When I wrote about President Hafez Assad diplomacy it was in comparison with Saddam and to be very honest, they are very different persons that I even feel bad to do this unfair comparison for Mr. Assad, this is one of the things we may not agree on, but we are still have too much in common that those things are irrelevant since they are more into feeling categories and preferences.

About the X0000 number you mentioned, I’m an honest person and I’ll go straight to your point, Hama:
Hama as we Syrian know is nothing that we are proud of, we all try not to look at it because of the pain it had on many innocent people and the unjust that brought on both sides, although part of me still think that the MB are the ones who start the whole issue, but as I get older I learned that blaming never works not on personal level and it defiantly wont work on countries’ level, therefore a fair look at that period of Syrian history is needed by all parties just to turn off this ugly page and to learn something out of it.
I was reading an article for Mr. Yaseen Haj Saleh, he concludes that Tadmor prison should become a museum of pain, I loved his idea. A museum may not be the closure of this tragedy but is defiantly a beginning of a better closure to all Syrians.

February 25th, 2010, 10:13 pm


Majhool said:


I appreciate your candid response. Hamah is not the center of my attention, ridding ourselves from dictatorship and corruption is. Hamah comes up just as a reminder on how brutal and criminal a dictatorship could be. To me, a mere apology for the innocent is enough for closure. But even that is denied by the authoritarian system.

The fear from religious extremism will always be there, Even in the US, we fear the neocon. It’s not a perfect world and we would have to tame the monster. Again, this notion that we have a fair and compassionate dictator and that we don’t deserve any better is bull. And I know we agree on that.

What is our dictator doing to tame the religious monster? Is education improving? Is civil awareness improving? Is poverty diminishing? They have nothing to show for, except a history of trouble making,

February 25th, 2010, 11:11 pm


Alex said:

Averroes, OTW

I’m proud to know both of you.

Majhool said,


The policy of this forum as executed is to try and bully those that are outspoken against the monopoly of power in Syria. With some exceptions”

Amazing how you sound just like the others (from a country to the south west of Syria) who keep claiming that this forum has a policy of bullying those who do not agree with its … policy!

“bully” is in fact the larger number of those who disagree with you … you can not understand that they might be a majority, just like you can not accept that President Assad is the most popular Leader in the Arab world … you are sure that your 15 year old niece will beat him in any elections, and you are sure that if most Syrians here are not sharing your view, then it must be “a policy of bullying” you.

I have had a number of people including Nafdik and you who seriously challenged my comments above and I did not complain that you all have a policy of bullying me.

The past two days I have been sharply critical of the Obama administration and warned that there is one main issue for this year … war on Iran (that will spread to the whole region) or a comprehensive settlement following a different attitude towards Syria from Washington.

Some of you wanted to suggest that my bringing the United States into the picture here was unwarranted, and some of you portrayed it as an excuse to justify the continued rule of “the dictator”, and others explained to me that the US does not really care about what happens in Syria …

Thanks to today’s news conference in Damascus, I will not need to defend my shifting the focus to America’s attitude to Syria.

February 25th, 2010, 11:29 pm


Majhool said:


for the 10th time. i need to remind you that you are mixing between popularity in syria with that in the arab world. I am sure you heard the saying “it’s always brighter on the other side” which confirms contextual popularity in the broader arab world. However, popularity in Syria is as slim as a hair.

Calling me “secterian” was completely uncalled for. Why do you think i comment so rarely here? Its not the first time. It used to be the regular Norman, now its you. I got to tell you, i am not the only one who feels that way.

I am not going to call you names, it violates the forum rules

February 25th, 2010, 11:56 pm


norman said:

Averroes, OTW, Observor, Alex Jad and Elie,

Do you have any idea on how to get rid of the grip that the Oalama have on the thought process of the Arab and Syrian people,?

February 26th, 2010, 1:01 am


Averroes said:

Alex, OTW, Norman, Jad, and all the friends and readers on this site,

First I would like to state my full agreement with OTW on his analysis. Indeed, were a technologically advanced and ruthless occupier to invade the US with overwhelming force, it is all too conceivable that it can plot for the country’s devastation if it so wishes. Just imagine the following:

– Looking at the American people not as a people of a nation, but as inherently separate groups of Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, East Indians, Natives, lest we forget, Protestant, Catholic, Evangelical, Jews, Muslims and “other minorities”.

– Scrapping the Constitution and writing a new one that institutionalize those fault lines in every level of government out there. “The President shall be a White Protestant. The Vice President shall be a First Nations Indian, the Foreign Minister shall be a Black Catholic, etc.”

– Projecting overwhelming media pressure to ingrain the new “facts” as the only layer of reality out there. The news should read “Mr. Haseldoff, leader of the Greek Orthodox minority group has rejected the proposal posted by Mr. Rodriguez, leader of the Free Hispanic Party” This is to continue day and night relentlessly: Every leader name is to be immediately followed by a qualifier, telling the audience who they really are.

– Planting some explosives in sensitive, fault line cities, and having some White Supremacist group assume responsibility for that on television.

– Evacuating major cities from all forms of law enforcement, and maybe bombing a few power generation facilities for good measure.

I think you get the idea. I apologize for this ugly fictitious scenario, but this is very similar to what the neocons have deliberately done in Iraq, tried to do in Lebanon, and will keep trying to do elsewhere.

Do you think that under such circumstances that the Smithsonian museum will not be sacked and burnt? Do you think that under such conditions there will not be random drive-by shootings, hostage taking, rape and ethnic cleansing?

Those deadly forces are out there in virtually every society on the planet.

Every form of savagery that the Arabs are being accused of can take place in such a scenario. Arabs have their social and religious fault line and weak points, but so does everyone else, so it is time to stop dehumanizing Arabs as a pretext to bombing them without any guilt.

On the other hand, Iraq was indeed not the healthiest of nations before the invasion. The invasion exploited existing fault lines. It did so with criminal intention, but still the country was relatively easy to fracture.

For Syria, and for the Arab countries in general, people must act proactively and in strategic and organized manners to cement any potential fault lines.

(My laptop is almost out of battery so I have to wrap it up here, but more later inshalla).

February 26th, 2010, 3:32 am


norman said:

Averroes ,

Well said , these description which are probably illegal in the US are standard and encouraged in the Middle East ,only to consolidate the power of the leaders of these groups , banning such a description will go a long way into looking at people for what they do more than what their ethnic backgrounds or religions are ,

February 26th, 2010, 3:47 am


Elie Elhadj said:

The environment leaves its imprints on its inhabitants. Culture, influenced by the environment, drives the actions of individuals. The way of life of the father and the mother affects the way the children behave. The instinctive reactions of the teacher color those of the student, and so on… To brush aside these determinants leads to fanciful and myopic vision of one self.

Religious reform is resisted by Arab rulers, the ulama, and the programmed majority of the masses.

By contrast, the plight of the Palestinians is supported by Arab governments and the masses with assistance to help the Palestinian cause encouraged and glorified.

My thesis is this: Since genuine religious and political reforms are almost impossible to evolve in Arab lands, a second best approach would be to hope for a towering personality that might do the work of a Kemal Ataturk and a Martin Luther. How likely is it that benevolent dictatorships might replace Arab rulers’ tyranny? The answer is that since benevolent dictatorship does not evolve institutionally there is no predictable pattern to discern here. There might be a coup d’état by a benevolent dictator tomorrow; or, there might not be one, ever.

Sadly, in all likelihood, we are condemned to suffer under ugly dictatorships for a very very long time.

I do not advocate benevolent dictatorship. Dictatorship by non-representative rulers is dictatorship regardless of shape, form, or color. Non-representative dictatorship is an insult to the dignity and self-respect of citizens. However, if one must live under the rule of a non-representative dictator, it might as well be a benevolent one, until such a time as genuine religious and political reforms would hopefully evolve.

Thanks for this. The benevolent dictator should put into effect religious reforms as well as political reforms. Without religious reform in the Arab world, political reform is fantasy—propaganda.

In comment 26 above, I wrote: The ulama’s hold on the faithful is the worst form of slavery. A rigid and unchanging Shari’a will continue to manacle Muslims to seventh century laws and dogma of the Arabian Desert. Release from the ulama’s grip means being able to examine the historicity of the Quran and the Hadith without the fear of persecution and prosecution under blasphemy laws, or name calling and insults. Release from the ulama’s control means freeing the mind, Muslim mind as well as all the other minds that believe in the demagoguery of predestination, fate, superstition, and psychotic explanations of the evil eye and the machinations of angels and djinn. A father who attributes the death of his son on the operating table to the will of God, not the incompetence of the surgeon, is sick and needs psychological help.

I am not advocating caliph types. God forbid!

Thanks. I am faltered. I do not determine the price of the book. The publisher does. You may receive an electronic copy for $15.00 from the publisher:
Better yet, if you email me your address, I’ll send a complementary paper copy. My email is: eeh100@aol.com
The Islamic Shield was updated in 2008. I have no plans at the moment for a new update or for writing a new book. I add my cents from time to time by writing and updating the articles on my Blog.


February 26th, 2010, 9:05 am


Elie Elhadj said:

Your question is critical. It opens a whole new page.

To start with, replace Shari’a laws and courts by modern laws and judicial systems. At the top of the list is to enact personal status laws that would grant women the same legal rights as those of Muslim men.

To help such development, I contend that certain Prophetic statements and sayings ought to make it possible to modernize Shari’a laws by the agreement of a majority of Muslim men and women in Muslim countries, or by the agreement of a majority of their chosen representatives.

I would like to explain this thesis here, though the subject matter might be better suited for a separate posting and discussion.

For a thousand years the Sunni ulama have preached that the Islamic Shari’a is the unchangeable law of God sent to the Prophet Muhammad in the Arabic Quran to be the perfect way of life for the Arabians of the desert as well as for all mankind for all time.

According to more than one canonical Hadith collection, the Prophet reportedly said: “My community reaches no agreement that is an error” [The Six Books. The Hadith Encyclopaedia, Sunan Abi Dawood, Hadith tradition 4253, p. 1532; and Jame’ Al-Tirmithi, Ibid., Hadith tradition 2167, p. 1869; and Sunan Ibn Maja, Ibid., Hadith tradition 3950, p. 2713].

This Hadith makes the truth in all matters dependant on whatever the Muslim community agrees upon.

Why has Consensus of the Sunni Ulama, not the Consensus of the Muslim Community, become one of the four sources of Sunni law? Why has the Sunni ulama succeeded in substituting themselves for the “community” in the subject Hadith? The answer is that before the advent of electricity, computers, telecommunications, and modern polling techniques the gauging of the Muslim community’s opinion in its far-flung lands was impossible. Under such conditions, the opinion of a caucus of religious experts was an acceptable pragmatic approximation to the Hadith’s requirement. The ulama’s specialist knowledge and relatively small numbers qualified them for the task. Indeed, this Hadith could have been behind the development of the Consensus of the Sunni Ulama concept, notwithstanding the weaknesses inherent in the selection process of the appointees to such bodies—who would qualify for membership in the caucus, who would select the appointee, etc.

In the modern age, however, electricity, computers, telecommunications, and modern polling techniques have made referendums on specific issues simple, just as these technologies have made the election of community representatives easy. Modern technology has rendered Consensus of the Sunni Ulama obsolete. On the other hand, due to modern technology, the word and spirit of the Hadith: “My community reaches no agreement that is an error” can now be observed more faithfully than ever before.

The subject Prophetic statement could have far reaching implications on law making in Islamic communities. In this regard, four issues may be raised:

The first issue relates to what constitutes the “community” in today’s world. Is it the body of all Muslims in their 55 sovereign Islamic kingdoms and republics? Or, is it the Muslims of each country separately? The answer is that since the Muslim peoples at present live in so many states, speak scores of languages, and belong to numerous ethnicities, pragmatism and realism suggest that until such a time as the nation of Islam, or umma, becomes unified into one state the word “community” ought to signify the Muslims of each Islamic country separately.

The second issue relates to who among Muslims in the “community” is eligible to vote or run for office. The answer is that every Muslim man or woman should be eligible to vote or run for office. In 16:97, God says in the Quran: “Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily, to him will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure.” In 40:40: “Whoever does right, whether man or woman, and is a believer, will enter Paradise.” In 49.13: “Oh people, We created you men and women… The most honored of you in the sight of God is the most pious.” The Prophet has reportedly said: “All faithful in the sight of God are as equal as the teeth of a comb.”

The third issue relates to the degree of consensus needed to render an “agreement” valid. Does the “agreement” require the approval of every member of the community? Or, is the agreement of the community’s majority sufficient? In answer, the Prophet has provided the answer to this question. In the later part of the above-mentioned Hadith tradition (number 3950 in Sunan Ibn Maja’s collection), the Prophet reportedly added the statement: “In the event of disagreement, the opinion of the majority must prevail”.

The fourth issue relates to the subject matter(s) that might be covered in the “agreement”. Does “agreement” refer to a specific issue or to all issues in general? The answer is that since the Hadith did not specify a particular matter, nor did it exclude any, then the “agreement” may apply to any matter imaginable–theology, law, and rituals as well as secular matters.

The above four issues make it possible to conclude that the subject Hadith opens the door in Islamic countries to the creation of legislative chambers akin to Western parliaments. It may be further argued that Muslim countries that hinder the emergence of such legislative chambers would be in violation of the subject Hadith.

The legislative powers of the legislative chambers allow Muslim representatives to enact laws that could evolve a different way of life from Shari’a laws. However, if Islamists take control of their country’s legislative chamber, Shari’a laws will remain intact.

Western style parliaments are common in non-Arab Muslim countries. Populace Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Turkey, countries representing more than 50% of world Muslims enjoy democratically elected parliaments. Although, except in the case of Turkey, peer pressure, caution, and self-interest have tended to limit law making initiatives outside traditional Islamic thought and precedents, the mere existence of democratically elected parliaments, let alone having, or having had, women presidents and prime ministers in these countries provides a solid platform for added momentum in modern law making in the future.

Arab countries, by contrast, lack democratic elections and independent parliaments.

While non-Arab Muslim countries possess important elements to modernize Islamic law, Arab rulers represent an obstacle in the way of progress into the laws of the modern age.


February 26th, 2010, 9:22 am


nafdik said:

Dr Elhadj,

You seem to be holding 2 contradictory positions:

1) BD is the best we can hope for given our current environment
2) You will never support a BD

While I sympathies with your position, I think it is the recipe that lead us to our current state of affairs:

Smart people who are able to contribute to a solution in our countries have reached a point of paralysis because of the perceived gulf between their image of an ideal state and what they believe democracy will lead to.

Islam is highly compatible with democracy, in fact the culture and ideals of Islam naturally lead to democracy. Farabi advocated democracy long before Rousseau.

I suggest that instead of hoping for a Mehdi who will Ataturk-like father the nation, you should throw away the image of democracy=finland and go back to roots of democracy that is the respect for the will of the people.

In fact I would say the hope for a father figure who will make everything right is very much a negative trait of our culture that you criticize and it is this trait that we should fix first.

The age of the heroes is gone, it is now the turn of the people to speak (on Facebook and Twitter)

February 26th, 2010, 1:49 pm


norman said:

Elie ,

I agree with you about changing Sharia law and personal status laws and courts , but Do you think that should come with a decree from the top or should be a grass root movement by the people , women and others who are affected ,
How about new enlightened Uolamas that will explain Islam as you just did then call for the change that is needed to have democratic reform ,

February 26th, 2010, 2:40 pm


Elie Elhadj said:

For the removal of doubt, may I kindly repeat:

1. First choice is representative governance; i.e. democratic rule.
2. Second choice, a distant second, is benevolent dictatorship (BD).
3. Under no circumstances, human dignity and self respect should accept non-representative dictatorship.

One might protest that BD contains the evilness of non-representation. My answer to that is this: BD’s non-representative evilness would be tolerated in return for all the good things that BD produces, especially since the first choice is impossible to have. Further, if BD fails to institute religious reforms that would pave the way towards representative governance, then BD should be opposed. Said differently, BD would be tolerated only if it would lead to democratic rule.

You write: “Islam is highly compatible with democracy”. I do agree and believe that parts of Islam are not only compatible with democracy, but also demand free election of Muslim representative assemblies to decide on all issues. Please see my answer to NORMAN (comment 82). The tragedy is that Arab rulers and their ulama clients suppress any such arguments. Bringing such discussion into the discourse would lead to fatwas over the heads of the sponsors.

The fight today is between the forces of extremism in Islam and the reasoning of moderates. The former choose from Islam the intolerant and the violent. The latter choose the tolerant and the loving. The forces of extremism must be driven away.


February 26th, 2010, 3:02 pm


Majhool said:


How far/close do you think Bashar is from being a BD?

Thank you

February 26th, 2010, 3:35 pm


nafdik said:

Dr Elhadj,

As a last salvo in our discussion and I will leave you the final comment if you wish to respond.

– Are you saying that the ideal BD is a representative dictator?

– Why do you say that the problem is religion where in both Syria and Iraq the dictators have pursued extremely secular policies?

– Since the common theme between all Arab countries (except Lebanon) that have different degrees of state religiosity is that they are all ruled by force; isn’t it more logical to say that the fight today is between freedom and serfdom? And that your thesis advances the case for serfdom by using religion as yet another excuse to tolerate it.

– Do you not recognize the quasi-religious motif in your analysis? The Arab world is corrupted – The only solution is the arrival of the BD (Redeemer/Mahdi/Father/Hero) – He will make it all good and lead us to the city of light – In the meantime the best we can do is hope and pray.

February 26th, 2010, 4:40 pm


Ghat Albird said:

NAFDIK said:

The only solution is the arrival of the BD

The proof is in the pudding. One would think that the average Cuban would rather have a Castro than some “lackey” from Philadelpha or Las Vegas.

One wonders if Dr. Elhadj’s books are published in Arabic thereby allowing the Univesity students through out the Arab speaking world the opportunity to engage.

If not then the whole discussion is simply an academic exercise.

February 26th, 2010, 5:43 pm


Elie Elhadj said:

Change should be led by an agent-of-change. Because the ruler holds the most authority, his responsibilities should be that he is the agent-of-change. For a decree from the top on issues of cultural nature to succeed, it should, I believe, be introduced very gradually and after sufficient preparation. While each situation is unique, hard and fast rules are unwise to prescribe. Generally speaking, however, as a part of the preparation on, for example, changes in personal status laws (marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc…), modern thinking civic leaders, liberal women groups, enlightened ulama, etc… would be important contributors. For the national discourse to shift, the media, universities, schools, mosques etc… can make a difference.

The score depends on what one is looking for as a criterion for success. If religious and political reforms are the criteria, we have a rather long way to go.

– No, a BD is not a representative dictator. He is a non-representative ruler. He is not elected by the people. He is in power through the use of force.

– The Baath rulers in Syria and Iraq are not secular. The secular founding fathers of the Baath party must be turning in their graves. Name one genuine religious reform to their credit. Their anti-Islamists credentials have been to stay in power.

– While the foundation upon which blind obedience to Arab dictators is religious, the basis for obedience to the benevolent dictator is not religious. Instead, it is the desire of the people to reap the benefits of the BD’s good governance.

– A hero yes. A redeemer, no. A Mahdi, no. If the BD fails to institute religious reforms that would pave the way towards representative governance, then the BD should be opposed.

If the BD would be regarded as a redeemer or a Mahdi, he would cease to be a benevolent dictator. By definition, a redeemer or a Mahdi, would be a religious ruler, not secular. By contrast, the definition of a BD is being a secular agent of change whose job is to reform Shari’a laws and end the ulama’s control.


February 26th, 2010, 6:33 pm


Leo Leoni said:


It would not be correct to say that the Baath rulers of Syria and Iraq in the past 40 years have pursued secularization or “extreme secular policies”.

Ending up with the same personal status law after 40 years proves that no such process took place. Saddam Hussein for example decided to follow the socially conservative path in the 90s because he believed that it was the only viable option left to stay in power. He banned the sale of alcohol and took on the “pious Islamic ruler” role.

I disagree with you that Islam (in its current mainstream understanding) is compatible with democracy (that guarantees basic civil/political liberties). Islam COULD be compatible to democracy if it reverts to it’s original essence, a system of faith that is personal to its adherent. This essentially requires a break off from the current grip of the Ulema, as has been discussed by Dr. Elhadj. This is also where the role of the reformer comes into play, as someone who can re-interpret the texts and come out with interpretations that can be suitable to 21st century thinking, and not to conflict with the process of modernization.

Thanks Dr. ElHadj for contributing to this blog. Your posts are always enriching the discussion. I Hope you continue to post your future articles here as well.

February 27th, 2010, 6:24 am


Elie Elhadj said:

Unfortunately my books are not in Arabic. I sincerely wish I could have them translated. If you, or any one else in this forum, can help me in this endeavor, I’ll be delighted to pay for the translation, notwithstanding my firm belief that my writing in Arabic could pose a physical danger to myself. I’ll be happy to take that risk for the sake of religious and political reforms in our lands.

Thanks for the kind words.


February 27th, 2010, 9:56 am


Shami said:

Elie,clericalism is an heresy in Islam.
Do you know one muslim ruler ,sultan,emir who was subjected to a council of men of religion?
In fact in Islam ,contrary to catholicism ,the religious elite ,never had the upper hand in the temporal and even religious field.
The Islamic scholar should not be more than an advicer .Even Ibn Taymiyya despite his battle against the Mameluk sultan who jailed him several times recognized this supremacy of the politician, or the Sovereignty of the prince on the islamic umma should prevail even if this ruler is not a pious muslim.
The clerical theocracy in Iran is an heresy and is damned to a bad end as any tyrannical rule.
Nowadays and for the future,the good example to follow ,is the Syrian democracy that persisted from 1936 until 1963 and today Turkey and Malaysia.Erdogan and Mahatir Mohamad are the greatest muslims of this era.
Elie ,btw ,your opinion is not very different from that of the Zionist rulers ,those who often claim that we are the only democracy in the region and to make their statement credible are not unhappy with these bad rulers ,the needed rule in order to preverve the supremacy of Israel over 300 millions Arabs and if we use some reason , we can say that the syrian regime is one of their favorite assets.Who better than them ,had negatively affected the dignity of the sons of the greatest civilisations on earth and of Umayyad Damascus that ruled an empire from Spain to the borders of China with great intelligence , rationality and liberality?
Democracy and civil state is the solution for the Islamic umma ,not theocracy.

February 27th, 2010, 12:45 pm


Elie Elhadj said:


I agree, in principle, with your statement: “clericalism is an heresy in Islam”. The reality, however, has grown to be very different.

I addressed this point in comment 39 to NAFDIK in response to his statement in 32: “Islam has no Pope”. In case of ambiguity, I’ll clarify.

Despite Quranic attacks on priesthood in 5:63, in 9:31, and in 9:34 the ulama thrust themselves into not only the spiritual life of Muslims, as Christian priests do, but also has gone well beyond the spiritual realm into every detail of life’s temporal sphere. Today, the ulama control the details of every waking hour of Muslims tightly. Just follow the religious advice sections in newspapers, magazines, Islamic internet sites, television, radio, etc… to find the ulama’s advice is sought on such issues as whether or not it is permissible to have a tattoo, color one’s hair, for a woman to thin or darken her eyebrows, wear a silk tie or a silk garment, wear a gold ring, how to greet a guest, what to say to a person who sneezes, what to eat, how to eat.

How did the ulama attain such status?

Around the year 900, some two centuries after the Prophet’s death, the ulama laid down the foundation that helped them control Muslim life. They succeeded in enshrining the Sunna as a source of law equal to the Quran, although the Quran never made the Sunna a source of law–since the Quran was said to contain everything mankind needs to know (6:38, 16:89). Equating the Sunna with the Quran expanded the narrow coverage of Quranic law–of the 6,236 verses in the Koran, no more than approximately eighty verses deal with legal topics in the strictest sense of the term.

As teachers, preachers, muftis, judges, and court officials, the ulama became the guides on all matters from personal hygiene, diet, and healthy living to good manners, family affairs, theology, and rituals. This development wrapped Islamic law and dogma tightly around the body of Muslims, handing wealth, political influence, social standing, and lucrative careers to the ulama class. Little wonder that the ulama class today guard their privileges zealously. Muslims are constantly threatened with God’s damnation if they fail to seek and heed their guidance.

Following the Mongols’ destruction of Baghdad in 1258, the ulama of the Ottoman Empire (1280-1918) took over. After the First World War, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1881-1938) blamed Islam’s rigidity during the age of European Reformation, Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution for the demise of the Turkish Empire. While the Turks blamed Islam for their decline, the Arab ulama proclaimed that Islam would be their path to greatness. As the Turks were busy separating Islam from their state, the Muslim Brotherhood organization was founded in Egypt (1928) and Wahhabism declared as the way of life in Saudi Arabia (1932).

It is interesting to note that as the scope of the ulama’s influence grew, Protestantism stripped much of the Catholic priesthood of its obtrusive control and abuse of power. In October 1517, Martin Luther proclaimed his manifesto against the Catholic Church, the pope, and the clergy. Lutheran reforms denied the authority of the pope, abolished the mass, broke the priests’ control over access to salvation, created radically new systems of Christian doctrine, and founded new churches. Protestantism shook the hierarchical, sacerdotal, sacramental church to its foundation. Significantly, Luther eliminated the distinction between priest and laymen, thus ending what he referred to as “the detestable tyranny of the clergy over the laity.” In its place Luther taught his conception of a priesthood of all believers. Within less than fifty years, Lutheran thought shattered Western Christendom. Its message spread into many parts of Europe and, later, the United States.

Devoid of intermediaries between God and man, Luther’s conception of the relationship between Christians and God became essentially identical to the original conception of Islam regarding the relationship between Muslims and God. Interestingly, Christians, the followers of a religion based on priesthood, evolved under the Lutheran influence into a group that was less controlled by Christian clergy, while Muslims, the followers of a supposedly non-church-based religion, became controlled by the ulama class.

While it is true that the Islamic ulama have no central worldwide authority to organize their activities, they nonetheless became organized on a country-by-country basis in governmental bureaucracies, employed in the ministries of education, in the ministries of Islamic endowments (awkaf), in the councils for Islamic jurisprudence (or some similar offices), and in the Shari’a courts systems. Doctrinally too, the Sunni ulama, in guarding and defending traditional dogma from innovation, have, for a thousand years, been effectively acting as a central authority preventing doctrinal change. A Shi’ite marja’a, in his individual capacity as a representative of the Hidden Imam, exercises absolute authority over his followers. The Khomeini wilayat al-faqih construction in Iran created a formal central authority for Shi’ism in Iran.

As for your statement that my “opinion is not very different from that of the Zionist rulers”, I really do not wish to engage in such name calling.


February 27th, 2010, 9:16 pm


norman said:


It looks to me that we should be happy that DR Elhadg is calling for the return to real Islam and the Koran as interference of the religious leaders in everyday life is not part of the essential book in Islam that nobody can deny and that is the Koran ,

Follow the Koran ,

February 27th, 2010, 9:39 pm


Ghat Albird said:


Am afraid i cannot be of any service in translations to Arabic.

I am though an avid reader of all books written about the Arrabs.
At the present I am immersed in “The Arabs” by Anthony Nutting.

An amazing people with a “Sharazad” history.

Its a shame that the present “major power” is under someone else’s thumbs.


February 27th, 2010, 10:06 pm


Jad said:

Dr. Elie,
I can help in translating some chapters of your book.
I’ll send you an email shoretly, it won’t be fun to have a SOLO fatwa against you, I’m happy to share this privilage with you 🙂

February 27th, 2010, 10:52 pm


Elie Elhadj said:

My favorite book is “History of the Arabs” by Philip K. Hitti, a book I keep referring to and deliberating.

Thanks for the kind offer.

To publish a translation of this controversial book in Arabic, we need a publishing house willing to undertake the challenge. In the Middle East, this would be difficult, if not impossible. An exception might just possibly be in Lebanon. Do you or any one in this forum know of a publishing house that could be interested?


February 28th, 2010, 8:35 am


Friend in America said:

The following came from a news agency in India that is well regarded for carefulness in its reporting. This news offers a plausible explanation for Secretary Clinton’s backing away in recent weeks from her effort to renew warm relations with Syria. If the yellow cake was shipped to Iran last summer, Syria’s involvment with Iran is thicker than publically known and presents a continuing danger to the middle east:

” Tokyo, Feb 28 (Kyodo) North Korea provided about 45 tons of “yellowcake” uranium to Syria in September 2007 for production of fuel for an undeclared nuclear reactor, diplomatic and military sources said.

But the shipment was followed shortly by an Israeli air strike targeting the reactor and the uranium involved is believed to have been transferred to Iran around last summer, according to a Western diplomatic source.

The move highlights North Korea’s nuclear proliferation activities, leaving open the possibility that Iran would use the yellowcake for covert uranium enrichment.

But a Middle East military source has said that Syria may have returned the yellowcake to North Korea in the wake of the air strike.

UN Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from exporting nuclear-related materials and prohibit all member countries from procuring such items from the reclusive communist country.”

When compared to this the Golan issue is trivia

February 28th, 2010, 8:34 pm


qunfuz said:

Unfortunately, I’ve missed this discussion. I’d like to briefly say that although I do think that Islamic civilisation’s greatest weakness has always been political organisation (I”ve written about this, and will provide a link in the next few weeks), and although I find Dr elhadj’s argument fascinating and provocative, I do think it is far too simplistic, and even a little Islamophobic.

For a start, the failures of the classical ulema to develop a political science obviously originate from concrete political events and not from Islam itself. Islam contains many concepts (shura, ra’i, ijma, istislah) which could be a firm foundation for democracy. Islamic authority, at least in Sunnism, is not inevitably ‘hierarchical’. It is the failures of Muslims to establish Islamic or participatory political structures which has opened the door to the authority of the clan in its widest sense – the family, the tribe, the sect, etc. Islamic political authority should not be hierarchical.

It is certainly not obvious that non-Arabs have a more relaxed attitude to Islamic dogma. Have you been to Pakistan? It is a complete non-sequitor to say that if Pakistan is a democracy (and ultimately, the army and the landlords rule there) therefore it is more Islamically relaxed.

Better reasons for the lack of Arab democracy are not hard to find:

the general issue that there is not a wide consensus on who we are and how we should associate with others. Are we Muslims, one sect, Syrians, Levantines, the international working class, etc. The ‘natural’ evolution of these ideas in Europe has not been replicated in the middle east because our states were created by Europe.

next, and obviously related, the borders of these states were often drawn clumsily by outside powers, and exacerbated sectarian and ethnic divisions. if states do not have legitimacy in the eyes of their subjects, the subjects will hang on to ‘clan’ authorities.

In the Gulf, a foreign working class (and professional class) has been imported. This has stunted the social-political development of these countries. Britain, for instance, couldn’t just expell its workers when they organised and asked for more rights, or its professionals when they asked for greater decision-making powers, so British society had to become more participatory.

the small and weak upper middle class in countries like syria was – rightly or wrongly – discredited by its failure to stop the ethnic cleansing and theft of Palestine in 48. Hence the rise of military based politics.

Countries like Syria, Egypt and Iraq for various reasons had peasantries which were historically oppressed and kept miles from power, and the social mobility set in place by post-colonialism, centralisation of the new states, the rise of the military, etc, brought these classes suddenly to power.

It is too simplistic to talk about ‘islamist parliamentary democracy’ as if it is one fixed model. Mnay Muslims, including non-practising ones, are trying to work out what ilsmaic or islamist democracy might mean. The debate is fertile and by no means over.

Finally, I’ve been to Egypt a few times, and it is blatantly obvious to me that 77.2% of Egyptians do NOT support their president. Egypt, with its large Sunni majority, active if repressed worker’s movement, and ancient borders, more or less, and ancient centralisation, is a country in the region which could quite easily become democratic if only the US would stop funding the laughing cow.

March 1st, 2010, 11:22 am


Elie Elhadj said:

Thanks for the comment. I would like to respond as follows:

– “A little Islamophobic”. You are delicate. SHAMI already said in comment 96 that my “opinion is not very different from that of the Zionist rulers.”

I am not the least surprised at such reaction. The subject matter is sensitive, a taboo, Kufr. Until recently, I could not put myself together to question such issues either. Little by little, however, I managed to push the borders of my own mental prison.

– “The failures of the classical ulema to develop a political science obviously originate from concrete political events and not from Islam itself”.

I would say that the concrete political events you correctly refer to have shaped Islam itself. During the first two-and-a-half centuries following the death of the Prophet, Muslims witnessed momentous doctrinal, legal, and political conflicts. There were four civil wars, seven state capital cities, and numerous violent political and religious rebellions. These events spilled rivers of blood and divided the nascent Islamic nation into many factions and sects. The Islamic creed is, in part at least, a product of these events.

– Islam contains many concepts (shura, ra’i, ijma, istislah) which could be a firm foundation for democracy.

As long as these concepts evolve around the concept of God’s sovereignty, not sovereignty of the people, representative democracy will not be attained. I asked in the post: Is Islamist parliamentary democracy consistent with Western democracy? The answer was no. The parliament in an Islamist democracy is not the final authority in lawmaking. Sovereignty in Islamist democracy is to God whereas sovereignty under Western democracy is to the people. Islamist parliamentary democracy superimposes an Islamist constitutional court; composed of unelected clerics, on top of an elected parliament to ensure that man’s laws comply with God’s laws, a structure similar to Iran’s Council of Guardians. Is the Islamist constitutional court similar to Western constitutional courts? Again, the answer is no. While the former adjudicates according to the ulama’s interpretation of Islamic law, the latter adjudicates according to parliamentary laws.

– “Have you been to Pakistan”?

The fact that Pakistan had a woman for prime minister, twice, is a credit no Arab country can boast. Shari’a laws in every Arab country, other than Tunisia, treat women as chattel. A week ago, on February 26, 2010, Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Barrak opined that those who promote heresies like the mixing of men and women in the workplace or in educational institutions should be put to death.

Pakistan has retrograded during the recent past. Wahhabi indoctrination to the estimated 15 million or so Pakistani expatriate workers who had worked in Saudi Arabia during the past 35 years or continue to work there must have had its toll. If only a small proportion embraced Wahhabism, hundreds of thousands could be spreading the Wahhabi creed of extremism, intolerance, and violence around. Wahhabi clerics spent an estimated $75 million over the past 25 years proselytizing and radicalizing clerics, preachers, and foot soldiers from Egypt, Lebanon, Gaza, and Somalia to Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Pakistan. The Wahhabi message is also heard worldwide through Saudi owned or controlled satellite television stations, Internet sites, newspapers, and magazines.

– “Mnay Muslims, including non-practising ones, are trying to work out what islmaic or islamist democracy might mean”.

In responding to OFFENDED in comment 59 I said: It is curious to note that while blind obedience to Muslim hierarchical authority is made by Arab rulers and their palace ulama to be an intrinsic part of Islam and a form of piety, one can also find in certain Prophetic Hadiths a golden nugget; namely, support for the creation of representative democracy. However, regrettably, no Arab ruler or a member of their palace ulama would allow such a “dangerous” subject into the open because it might expedite the end their non-representative dictatorships. Through the invocation of certain Hadith traditions, as reported by at least three canonical Hadith collectors, one can argue that the Prophet had advocated the creation of elected legislative chambers akin to Western parliaments and that such elected legislative chambers can enact modern laws, even change Shari’a laws. It may further be argued that Muslim countries that hinder the emergence of such elected legislative chambers would be in violation of Islam.

In responding to NORMAN in comment 86 I elaborated on comment 59. For the full thesis on this important issue please refer to comments 86. Your input would be helpful.

– “Egypt.”

On September 7, 2005 President Husni Mubarak won a fifth six-year term with 88.6% of the vote cast. While it is risky to rely on such stage-managed performances to measure genuine support, Arab farcical referendums and elections do reflect a degree of voter approval. This conclusion is based on the belief that it is difficult, if not physically impossible, to falsify every ballot. If the voter wishes to cast a “no” vote, the referendum provides a secret ballot opportunity to say so.


March 1st, 2010, 3:10 pm


qunfuz said:

Thanks for your response, Elie. I am actually in agreement with many of your points. I do agree that the formative phase of Islam (the fitna, leading to the contradictory and power-submissive theories of the ulema) has become indistinguishable from Islam itself. And I’m not an Islamist. But I do think that any tradition, Islam included, continues to adapt and develop to circumstances, and I don’t think the story has finished yet. Western democracy developed out of Christian, particularly Protestant, ideas. The democrats that emerged after the English revolution (or civil war) would have told us in no uncertain terms that sovereignty ultimately belonged to God. Many American democrats today would say the same (one nation under God). In the absence of God’s concrete intervention, however, ‘God’ became ‘our shared highest values’. The same could happen in this region.

Wahhabism horrifies me. See this http://qunfuz.com/2009/08/27/the-crisis-of-islamic-civilisation/ and this http://qunfuz.com/2006/12/09/the-horns-of-satan/ But again, its heavy influence on the Muslim world in recent years is the result of political and economic conditions (oil money, Muslim workers travelling to Saudi, Saudi control of media, rapid urbanisation, the Saudi-US alliance) rather than ant inherent quality in the Muslims or Islam. In Pakistan, the Sharia laws are much more retrograde than in most Arab countries. This is certainly linked to Pak workers returned from KSA, but also to the Afghan ‘jihad’ against the Soviet Union and the Zia ul Haq dictatorship.

Calling open debate of the kind of government we should have ‘kufr’ is the Wahhabi line, which I’m sure you don’t share. I agree that Islamic civilisation would have been immeasurably stronger (might even still exist) if such taboos had not been established. I certainly am not a believer in such taboos, and I certainly don’t wish to suggest that you shouldn’t write about them. So don’t be offended. I called your argument slightly Islamophobic because I think it is too essentialist. I don’t mean that you personally are Islamophobic. As I said, I’ve just written a piece on this subject myself, based on Abdelwahhab el-Affendi’s excellent book Who Needs an Islamic State. Affendi’s idea of a functioning ‘Islamic state’ is a non-coercive democracy, or perhaps a collection of democracies linked by treaty, not unlike the European Union. He undercuts simplistic Islamist visions by sympathetically but critically examining the parts of Islamic history which you talk about. I salute you for talking about it. I’m itching to post what I’ve written, but will refrain for a while as this week I may try to have it published somewhere.

March 1st, 2010, 6:04 pm


Elie Elhadj said:


Enjoyed reading the piece on The Horns of Satan:
All that you stated is accurate and true. Thanks.

The slogans “one nation under God” and “in God we trust” etc… have no law making significance. The state is secular and its parliamentary laws are final once signed by the president. The church has no role in checking the godliness of any law.

It should be emphasized that in separating religion from the state the individual should be able to follow whatever religion they feel inclined to follow. The laws of the land, however, would those agreed by the people, not those imposed by the ulama in the name of God.

At the risk of becoming pedantic, may I repeat a paragraph in comment 104.

In responding to OFFENDED in comment 59 I said: one can find in certain Prophetic Hadiths a golden nugget; namely, support for the creation of representative democracy. However, no Arab ruler or a member of their palace ulama would allow such a “dangerous” subject into the open because it might expedite the end their non-representative dictatorships. Through the invocation of certain Hadith traditions, as reported by at least three canonical Hadith collectors, one can argue that the Prophet had advocated the creation of elected legislative chambers akin to Western parliaments and that such elected legislative chambers can enact modern laws, even change Shari’a laws. It may further be argued that Muslim countries that hinder the emergence of such elected legislative chambers would be in violation of Islam.

In responding to NORMAN in comment 86 I elaborated on comment 59. For the full thesis on this issue please refer to comments 86. Your input would be helpful.


March 1st, 2010, 8:34 pm


qunfuz said:

I’ve looked at comment 86, Dr. Elie, and I agree with it. These are precisely some of the reasons why Islam and democracy, or Arab societies and democracy, need not be incompatible. Undoubtedly we need rereadings of Islam and an extension of the notion of ijma beyond the ulema. here http://qunfuz.com/2007/09/26/a-ramadan-reflection/ I include an article by the British Muslim thinker Zia uddin Sardar which covers much of the same ground.

March 2nd, 2010, 6:53 pm


Elie Elhadj said:


Thanks for your input on comment 86. I value your judgment. Also thanks for the excellent expose on your Website: “A Ramadan Reflection” and the articles by Abdal-Hakim Murad and Professor Ziauddin Sardar.

I might sound contradictory. On one hand, I contend that Arab democracy is fantasy. On the other, I contend that Islam calls for the creation of elected legislative chambers akin to Western parliaments and that those Muslim countries that hinder the emergence of such legislative chambers are in violation of Islam. Are the two contentions reconcilable? The answer is in the affirmative. Arab rulers focus on those parts of the Islamic creed that help perpetuate their dictatorships to such an extent that it has become impossible to see how genuine religious and political reforms can ever evolve in Arab societies. Meanwhile, those parts of the Islamic creed, like the Prophetic Hadith in comment 86, which might evolve genuine religious and political reforms are suppressed and their advocates, if they ever draw a following, persecuted and prosecuted because such parts might bring an end to Arab rulers’ tyranny.

I enjoyed Professor Sardars article. With your permission, I would like to share the following paragraphs:

“The Qur’an has to be reinterpreted from epoch to epoch – which means the Shari`ah, and by extension Islam itself, has to be reformulated with changing contexts.

“Over time the clerics and religious scholars have removed the people from the equation – and reduced ijma to ‘the consensus of the religious scholars’. Not surprisingly, authoritarianism, theocracy and despotism reigns supreme in the Muslim world.

“Obscurantist Mullahs, in the guise of the `ulama, dominate Muslim societies and circumscribe them with fanaticism and absurdly reductive logic.

“Islam has been permitted to languish as the professional domain of people more familiar with the world of the eleventh century than the twenty-first century we now inhabit. And we cannot allow this class to bury the noble idea of Ijtihad into frozen and distant history.

“The idea of ijma, the central notion of communal life in Islam, has been reduced to the consensus of a select few.

“Ijma must mean consensus of all citizens leading to participatory and accountable governance.”

Comment 86 provides a possible road map towards democratic governance in Islam. I hope that we can engage in this important matter further.


March 2nd, 2010, 9:45 pm


EHSANI2 said:

This debate has been outstanding. The discussion is very civil given the sensitivity of the subject matter. Thanks to both Elie and Josh for bringing such a smart debate to this forum. I , for one, did learn a lot from it.

March 2nd, 2010, 10:26 pm


Ghat Albird said:

A Counterpunch commentary on Islamic disunity.


March 2nd, 2010, 11:09 pm


Mr. President said:

the list of what you called BD leaders includes: the last few ottoman sultans…Hafiz Assad,… Ataturk,…Islam had great leaders that really wanted to change things for the better. they tried but had limited success. they were confronted by the masses and other factors. I wish you presented a new solution besides what you called BD,

this is a very complex subject. you are dismissing many factors: Colonialism, Environment, Technology, Competition between empires….

Wahabism is an invention of colonialism. The Sunnis rejected it for the last 200 years and fought great wars against it. Colonialism used it to destroy the last Islamic empire (Ottoman). Churchill lost 100,000 men as an Admiral fighting the Turks and failed. However, he was able to destroy the Ottomans by using this new invention called Wahhabi thinking and its military gangs. The ottoman empire had many problems but it could have been repaired, modernized,…. The west used Wahabism to bring the Soviet Union to its knees, it used it to prevent science, free thinking, technology, economic power… in the Muslim masses. Tribes of Njid ( area of the city of Riad) used it as a tool to grab wealth and land. Most Sunnis practice Wahabism without knowing. why? This is because most mosques built and controlled by it. Most of the Islamic books that we read, including the current interpretation of the Quran, are published by its press for free . Islam brought us great Ulema/scholars and teachers from Rumi to Ibn Arabi, to Averroes,…the reason we have this backward type of Ulema/scholars because colonialism and its adopted version of Islam (Wahabism) would not allow us to have the other free thinking type. there are great Islamic books and hundreds of interpretations of the Holy Quran. However, such interpretations are and were prevented from going to the press or had their publication rights purchased by the Saudi or even had their manuscripts burned by the Wahhabis. Almost every Muslim family has a book called Ibn Katheer Interpretation of the Quran. Ibn Katheer was a student of the scholar Ibn Taymieh about 700 years ago (Wahabism is based on the very rigid and racist thinking of this man). Ibn Taymieh enjoyed the practice of killing babies, women and children in the villages surrounding Damascus and north of Syria. He did that if their parents did not agree to his version of Islam. This practice was also adopted by the Wahabis. One could ask himself why the West supports and supported this version of Islam?

It seems that most of your analysis, thinking, and historical facts came from reading the current Wahabi version of Islam. Islam is a system that lasted, filtered, improved, modified, reinterpreted for more than 1500 years. A lot of ideas of the Founding Fathers came from Islamic teaching. take for example the concept of the jury system. a person should be judged by his peers (from his local environment ) and not by a judge. the bill of rights is also Islamic in its nature. the idea of having selected judges (highest court) interpreting the constitution is also islamic 100%. However, in Islamic version, the constitution (Quran) is interpreted, by many groups of judges (sects, schools, communities,…). Sadly, with the help of colonialism, Whabism was successful in controlling all.

sorry for the grammar/misspelling. it was a quick note.

March 3rd, 2010, 9:08 am


Elie Elhadj said:


Thanks for your support.

The link that QUNFUZ provided is valuable:

I recommend that every one should read Prof. Sardar’s enlightened rational, and powerful article. I only wish that such great contributions are translated to Arabic, notwithstanding the fact that if such sensitive issues are debated widely in Arabic circles, the forces of darkness, the Arab palace ulama and their despotic benefactors, shall tear the “kuffars” who advocate such “heresies” to shreds, possibly death. Nonetheless, these issues must be discussed among Arabs widely. Eventually, the agents of change shall prevail.

We must work together to find ways and means to: first, widen this discussion in general; and, second, take the discussion to the Arab world.


March 3rd, 2010, 9:15 am


Husam from Canada said:

I read Mr. Elhadj and the various comments with astonishment.

With respect to all of you, many of whom seem well versed (I guess Generation X :), please consider the following:

1)What is the definition of democracy here? Are you referring to the doctrine that the numerical majority of an organized group can make decisions binding on the whole group? If so, read (and re-read) post #32 by NAFDIK which clearly and logically dismantles the discourse. Or, are you referring to “Arab Democracy” in relation to Democracy in the west which the youngest of Generation Y-Z knows is based on a hoax dual party dictatorship (conservative-democrats) run and controlled by special interest and lobbyist (no further clarification on who runs Washington, London, Paris or Rome necessary here). Even my wise un-educated mother laughs at the U.S elections bonanza show. Canada, Europe, etc… is no different. People need to wake up!!!

2)”Every innovation is a misguidance” translated from: Kullu bida’tin daiala. You can not read the holly Quran translated to an English audience without loosing the root meaning of each word. We know the fallacy of this with any religious book. Such an objection stems from the misinterpretation of the term Kull (“every”) in the Hadith to be all encompassing without any exception, whereas in Arabic it may mean “Nearly all” or “the vast majority.” Further, was this in reference to innovation as in science for example or innovation as in prayer and worship? What was the context?

3)I am sick and tired of people, even PHD’s confusing muslims with Islam and using their eloquent English as target practice to vilify religion. The failure in the Middle East has nothing to do with Arabs, Democracy, or Islam and everything to do with the establishment of “New World Order” in 1773 by Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the beginning of the Federal Reserve monetary system in 1913 that was emulated the world over and the installation, monetization and continuation of dictators in the divided Arab world either directly or indirectly. These statements are not an apologist – blame the west for the ills of the east, rather they are truths which are suppressed for various reasons. FOLLOW THE MONEY, you will understand the W5’s of any issue and why things are the way they are.

March 5th, 2010, 3:25 am


Bling said:

Islam has always been ‘tailored’ to fit the needs of the local potentate.

There is no absolute Islam, because Islam has a number of ‘functional measures’ that make it easy to change doctrines on the basis of ‘public interest’.

Who better to do this than a benevolent dictator?

Because there are so many tribes with long memories in Islamic regions, the only way to shield vulnerable tribes from old hatreds is to have a strong army led by a strong king with a vested interest in maintaining the peace.

The treatment of ‘others’ (religious minorities) would be better under a benevolent king than under a wild situation such as what exists in Iraq.

Having said that, I do hope Iraq succeeds in becoming fully democratic. One can dream.

May 28th, 2010, 2:55 pm


almasri said:

“Islam has always been ‘tailored’ to fit the needs of the local potentate.

There is no absolute Islam, because Islam has a number of ‘functional measures’ that make it easy to change doctrines on the basis of ‘public interest’.”

Anyone who makes such statements knows nothing about Islam. Bling, please educate yourself first and then come back and utter such nonesense. No one, with a slightest understanding of Islam, will take you seriously based on what you say.

May 28th, 2010, 5:11 pm


Kyla Villa said:

great post..thanks for sharing,very informative

January 15th, 2012, 2:07 am


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