The late Elie Kedourie pulls no punches: Arabs, and Muslims more generally, have nothing in their own political traditions that is compatible with Western notions of democracy or, more accurately, constitutional representative government. Western implants, he shows in a series of case studies from the twentieth-century Arab experience, have not worked. Having destroyed the authoritarian but accepted, traditional order in the Middle East, the West cannot now hope to see democracy emerge. Instead Arabs have borrowed from the West only those techniques of bureaucratic centralization that make autocracy more oppressive. Kedourie has a stark, black-and-white view of contemporary politics, colored by nostalgia for an earlier era. No credit is given to the current hesitant efforts in Jordan, Egypt and Yemen (to mention a few) to expand the scope of civil society, to permit more political freedom, to establish an independent judiciary and to hold relatively free elections. Nor do we get a hint of how other Muslim societies, such as Turkey, have managed to pursue a relatively democratic path. Is there something special about Arabs that makes them different from other Muslims? Kedourie's analysis suggests that only the inhabitants of Europe and their direct descendants are able to make constitutional government work. This short book strongly presents one side of a debate that will go on for years. Only time will tell whether its pessimistic conclusions are warranted.
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