09:30 - 18:00
Aims and objectives
The issue of political pluralism in the 'Islamic world' is a defining concern when addressing the wider issue of democracy among Muslim countries. While some scholars contend that there are inherent factors within 'Islam' that deny the possibility of democracy, others contend that there is nothing within 'Islam' that means that Muslim countries will 'inevitably' have a lack of democratic credentials. It is also often suggested that many Muslim countries have few structural characteristics conducive to both democratisation and democracy, and that things have been that way for a long time. This situation did not fundamentally change during the two decades of the 'third wave of democracy', between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s, and the most recent expression of political dissent - the so-called 'Arab Spring' - did not clarify things in this regard.
The Conference seeks to address the following areas of the topic of Democracy in the Muslim World:
Democracy in European Context
In the context of Western Europe, the relationship between 'Islam' and 'democracy' largely focuses on the issue of how Muslims can be integrated into extant democratic frameworks that they had no involvement in creating and which may be based to some extent on values - i.e. liberal democracy - which not all Muslims would necessarily share. The issue is crucial because the nature of political systems in Western Europe are themselves under sustained attack from those who see there is a profound 'democratic deficit' in many regional countries, which have seen a general, and sometimes meteoric, rise of populist right wing political parties who are typically strongly against immigration.
Democracy in the Middle East
The 'Arab Spring' ushered in widespread calls for democratic reform in the context of declining economies, rising unemployment and growing sectarian tensions. The Middle East region has long been an outlier: the only global region with few countries recognised as functioning democracies. Many would argue that the 'Arab Spring' has ushered in more not less democracy, with the military takeover in Egypt and state meltdown in Libya and Yemen, not to mention the worsening civil war in Syria. All of these events and developments focus attention on the issue of democratisation in the Middle East and the response of both incumbent governments and external actors to events which in many cases seem to be spiralling out of control.
Islamic Democracy Internationally
The main actors internationally in relation to what might be called 'Islamic democracy' are the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League. Both entities are well-established international actors whose influence at both international and regional level is significant. However, it is less than clear to what extent such bodies work consistently towards achieving more and better democracy. It may be that many governments of Muslim-majority countries regard democracy as a 'luxury' which cannot be afforded at the present time. In addition, there are a lack of significant transnational non-state 'Islamic' actors seeking to encourage increased democratisation. For example, there is no 'Muslim' equivalent of the government of the USA which is constitutionally committed to democracy promotion and advancement. It may be that the government of Turkey would wish to fulfil such a role, but there is scant evidence to date that its efforts in this respect are clearly bearing fruit.