Islamic armies and democracy

The enemy within

Yitzhak Rabin the former Prime Minister (PM) of Israel was asked an important question; ‘Why has there been no martial law in Israel?’ His answer was straight, as ARMY CHIEF if I had ordered taking over the government the Israeli soldiers would not carry out the orders. Rabin was talking from experience as he had been the army chief before being elected the PM.

Israel owes its existence to its Armed Forces yet they follow the constitution and obey lawful orders. Why is it that the Islamic Armies remain above constitutional limits? In Turkey, the army had imposed its role as a supra-constitutional body that could lawfully take over the government. The popularly elected government of the incumbent PM Tayyib Erdogan not only amended the constitution but imprisoned the top generals who opposed democratic authority. Today Turkey is the fastest growing economy in Europe with record trade surplus.

Since 1952 Egypt has been under the military yoke. With a standing army of 500,000, it is the largest force in the Middle East, yet it has achieved no laurels for its country. It lost all its wars and then negotiated a peace deal with Israel that has greatly undermined the Palestinian cause. Only Gamal Abdel Nasser is revered for his honesty and integrity.

His successors both Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak have left a very poor legacy. Mohammad Morsi, the first elected president, lasted only a year before he was captured and detained by the army. The nation stands divided with massive protests. Only a political dialogue is the way forward. Despite the army backing, the forces of status-quo cannot prevail in the 21st century.

In Algeria the same approach was adopted. The armed forces refused to accept the result of ballot and took control of the country. The colonial yoke continues. Ben Bella prevailed over the French Army but could not contain its own. The struggle for democracy continues while people suffer. Somehow there are no military takeovers in the autocratic states like: UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia etc.

Iran emerged as a democracy in the middle of the 20th century and Shah had to flee. Dr. Mossediq, the elected PM, was deposed and imprisoned quite like President Morsi and the Shah was reinstated.

He then became the policeman of the Middle East with the assistance of his own forces and international powers. Finally Imam Khomeni dismantled the empire and restored democracy. To contain the khakis he created his own cadre of guards who not only protect the democratic order but also valiantly fought the Iraqis incursion. The Iranian armed forces are subservient to the constitution and the civilian leadership.

Pakistan started as a democracy, perhaps the first in the Ummah, but it lasted only eleven years (1947 to 1958). When the hard work of institutions and nation building had been achieved by the founding fathers, a tyrant called Ayub Khan took over the reins of the country and derailed the country and its fledgling democracy. His successor Gen Yahya Khan dismembered the Quaid’s Pakistan. Gen Zia, the third usurper, tried to bury democracy for all times to come and was indulged in framing his own constitution when he was blown in a mid air crash. Gen Musharaf was another disaster and now faces accountability for his misdeeds. Perhaps article 6 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan will set in a new trend in the Ummah where generals will have to face the gallows for the first time.

The Islamic armies are gigantic in size. Pakistan (650,000), Egypt (500,000), Turkey (150,000 approximate), Iran (300,000 approximate) and then Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, it is a formidable force to be reckoned with. Somehow these soldiers of Islam have been pitched against democracy and sovereignty of their own nations. Only sovereigns can chart their own destiny and indulge in nation building. This institutional empire building in the Islamic World must come to an end. The days of the Military Incorporated as highlighted by Ayesha Siddiqua are over. Armies are built to ensure territorial integrity, they are governed by the constitution of their respective countries. Democracy bashing is not their mandate. Men in khaki are subservient to the elected leadership and should obey lawful orders. The enemies of democracy within have to be identified and weeded out for the sovereignty of the Ummah.

The writer is former Chairman, Pakistan Science Foundation. Email: [email protected]


  1. Anon said:

    Enlighten us …
    Simple but honest perspective …
    Thank you very much …

  2. captainjohann said:

    A brilliant article. But the author has ommitted one significant part. this happens because the USA and Europe who sustain these armies through their link Saudi arabia do not like Democracy in Muslim world.

  3. Political Scientiist said:

    Where did you get your Ph.D. and what makes you qualified to analyze political developments in the third word countries? Dr. Sahib, Is Latin America Islamic and show me the quote from Yitzhak Rabin and please do not make up the things.

Comments are closed.