Demilitarizing Muslim Politics

ISLAMABAD – Can Muslim governments free themselves from their countries’ powerful militaries and establish civilian control comparable to that found in liberal democracies? This question is now paramount in countries as disparate as Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey.

To predict how this struggle will play out, it helps to understand the region’s past. Since Islam’s founding in the seventh century, it has maintained a tradition of deep military engagement in politics and governance. Indeed, Islam’s increasing military prowess helped it to spread rapidly around the world.

The military was responsible for Islam’s implantation throughout the Middle East, as well as in Persia, Southern Europe, and the Indian sub-continent. And once a Muslim state was established in newly conquered lands, the military became integral to its governance.

The military’s incorporation into the state was most prominent in the Ottoman Empire, whose rulers created a new type of military force that drew its manpower mostly from Islamic-ruled parts of Europe. These Janissaries (Christian boys conscripted to serve in Ottoman infantry units) were either recruited from Europe or abducted from countries under Ottoman control.