Islamic Constitutions and Democracy

Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912921991241
So far, democracy has been failing to find a foothold in
the Middle East, a region that has historically been charac-
terized by long-lasting authoritarian regimes (Elbadawi
and Makdisi 2010; Elsayyad and Hanafy 2014).
Theoretical explanations of democracy gap in the Middle
East, and in Muslim-majority countries in general, are
sought in “history, geography, economics, culture, and
religion” (Springborg 2007, 239). A considerable body of
literature focuses on the latter cause and shows that the
real culprit for the lack of democratic institutions in the
Middle East is Islam and its deep institutional factors that
historically precede the importance of oil (Fish 2002,
2011; Kuran 2016; Lust 2011; Norris 2013). In fact, sev-
eral studies point out that oil rich Islamic countries were
largely autocratic long before the discovery of oil (Chaney
2012; Kuran 2013; Rørbæk 2016). While some have
argued that Islam has many resources to accommodate
a successful democratic state (Esposito and Voll 1996;
Salame 1994), other studies argue that Islam is inherently
incompatible with democracy, judging from the (usual)
low scores of democracy recorded by Muslim-majority
countries (Fukuyama 1992; Huntington 1996; Lewis
1993; Zakaria 2004, 4) claims, “certainly the Koranic
model of leadership is authoritarian.”
Institutions constitute the social, political, legal, and
economic system of a state. According to North (1990),
“Institutions are the rules of the game in a society. [. . .]
they structure incentives in human exchange, whether
political, social or economic” (p. 1). Generally, rules that
constitute the political, legal, economic, and social envi-
ronment and are formally written down, be it for exam-
ple a legal text or a constitution, are called formal
institutions. Formal institutions indicate an official for-
mal enforcement mechanism in case the rules are vio-
lated. Morals, norms, values, traditions, and codes of
conduct also influence human behavior. These societal
and cultural factors, that are usually unwritten, are called
informal institutions (Dobler 2011; Greif 2006; North
It has been a common practice in empirical research
examining Islam and democracy to measure Islam by
Muslim population share (Barro 1999; Fish 2002; Hanusch
2013; Potrafke 2012, 2013; Rød, Knutsen, and Hegre
2020). Some authors control for the level of religiosity of
Muslim population (Ciftci, Wuthrich and Shamaileh 2019;
Collins and Owen 2012; Tessler 2002). From an institu-
tional perspective, religious belief is usually considered
1241PRQXXX10.1177/1065912921991241Political Research QuarterlyGouda and Hanafy
1Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul, South Korea
Corresponding Author:
Moamen Gouda, Graduate School of International and Area Studies,
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, 107, Imun-ro, Dongdaemun-gu,
Seoul 02450, South Korea.
Islamic Constitutions and Democracy
Moamen Gouda1 and Shimaa Hanafy1
There is an ongoing debate on the relationship between Islam and (lack of) democracy. Considerable literature shows
that Islam, represented as an informal institution by Muslim population share, has a negative effect on democracy.
This study examines the effects of formal institutions, specifically constitutions that prescribe Islamic law (Shari’a) as a
source of legislation, on democracy. We use a newly developed coding of the degree to which Islam is incorporated
in constitutions. Our empirical results show that the constitutional entrenchment of Islamic law has a negative and
significant effect on democracy. Our findings are robust to using different estimators and instrumental variable
regressions, employing alternative measures of democracy and controlling for Muslim population, natural resource
wealth, and additional control variables. While we show that Islamic constitutionalism is a reason for a democracy
deficit in Muslim-majority countries, we find no evidence that Islam is inimical to democracy when not entrenched in
the constitution.
Islam, democracy, Islamic constitutions, institutions, supreme values
2022, Vol. 75(4) 994–1005

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