Saudi Arabia and Democracy: Democratic Façade

This is the year of democracy in the Middle East, elections feature in Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Yet ‘election’ is just a buzz word. Afraid of unleashing true participatory politics, dictators rush to western models to find the magic phrase, but then legitimise it with Islamic codes. They conjure up potions formulated to suit the ruler without threatening the status quo. For Saudi Arabia the word ‘partial’ provides the recipe.

The World Today Updated 15 October 2020 Published 1 February 2005 4 minute READ

Mai Yamani

Associate Fellow, Middle East Programme, Chatham House

The rulers of Saudi Arabia, arguably the most undemocratic state in the region, say that democracy is incompatible with Islam. Instead they use the term ‘participatory’ government. The majority of Muslim scholars however, including the Sheikh of the Al Azhar mosque in Cairo and the influential Qatar based Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi, believe that Islam is compatible with democracy. That is democracy defined as respect for the rule of law, equality between citizens, the fair distribution of wealth, justice and the freedoms of expression and assembly. What remains debatable and contentious is the right of citizens to choose their leaders.

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