I disagree with those who claim that democracy and Islam are not compatible or that democracy is not necessarily the appropriate form of government in the Muslim World. From my point of view, democracy is the only good form of government for any country in the world, including the Middle East. Centralization and the absolute powers given to autocrats and theocrats have incurred dire consequences not only to the Middle East but also to the whole world. Spreading democracy in the Middle East would improve the future of the people in the region and the world. However, for democracy to succeed it should be paired with liberalism.
Democracy, as I understand, is mainly about the rule of law and giving people the free will to decide their present and future based on informed choice. It is much more than merely running and participating in free and fair parliamentary or presidential elections. It has nothing to do with the type of the ruling regime of a given country, either a monarchy or a republic. Some monarchies like UK are successfully applying democracy, while some republics like Egypt are failing dramatically in achieving the minimum requirements for viable democracy. Thus, democracy is not about the elite or the regime. However, democracy is about the people and whether they enjoy their basic rights to freedom, equality, and economic prosperity under the rule of law. And, this is the core principal of liberalism.
The Middle East problem with democracy has nothing to do with Islam. The Middle East is perhaps the only region in our world that incorporates this large number of dictatorships (e.g. Islamist theocrats and secular autocrats). The lack of democracy in the region has resulted into angry but mostly apathetic group (large group) of people, especially young people, who tasted the bitterness of injustice and accordingly became an easy prey for the Islamists who programmed them into terrorists and fanatics. As religious by nature, the Middle Easterners found in the Islamists’ mostly wrong interpretations of holly texts a space to breathe out their anger and probably winning the eternal welfare at Heaven by sacrificing their soul for the “sinful” causes of fanatics. The ears of average Middle Easterners are deafened by dictators from one side and Islamists from the other side. The voice of pro-democracy or liberal Muslims and intellectuals is hardly heard under such strong pressures.
Applying democracy would act as a de-programmer for those escaping the bitter injustice under dictatorships by surrendering their “unfree will” to the Islamists in exchange of a fake promise of welfare in the afterlife. Democracy would empower the average people in the Middle East by allowing them to have the final say in their own lives and decide their own future. Accordingly, democracy, or better to emphasize “liberal democracy,” in the Middle East is the best and probably the only good from of government that would serve the interests of the people in the region and beyond.