Saint Louis University Public Law Review


In this article, I discuss prospects for democracy in the Middle East. I argue, first, that some democratic experiments—for instance, Egypt under Mohammed Morsi—are not in keeping with etymological and historical meanings of democracy; and second, that efforts to promote democracy, especially as exemplified in U.N. documents emphasizing universal rights grounded in Western traditions, are possibly totalitarian and also colonialist and hence counter to democratic ideals insofar as they impart one set of values as the only morally acceptable ones. A respectful dialogue in which people from both regions strive to understand conditions giving rise to certain social practices would be more productive than morally superior attitudes, and help all to see areas where their respective cultures could be improved. I conclude by discussing concepts of democratic and pragmatic faith articulated by John Dewey and William James, arguing that democracy will continue to flounder in the Middle East so long as the basic trust implied in these concepts is lacking; and how Westerners might consider this a cautionary tale regarding social attitudes and public policies contrary to democratic life in their own countries.