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Islam's Electoral Divide

How to reform the Islamic world will be among the topics NATO's leaders will discuss in Turkey next week. Both President Bush and the European Union have proposed bold democratization initiatives in the region. Can such initiatives succeed?

Islam and democracy are frequently presumed to be bitter antagonists. A careful study of the world's 47 Muslim-majority states, however, shows that Islam and democracy can and do co-exist. The real gap is narrower: it is the Arab world, not Islam, which seems at loggerheads with democracy.

This conclusion is based on comparing Muslim countries' "electoral competitiveness." If a government sprang from reasonably fair elections and the elected government is able to fill the most important political offices, the country is deemed "electorally competitive."

Electorally competitive countries are not necessarily democratic: some do not fully control the state's territory; others violate both their constitutions and human rights. But electoral competitiveness is always a necessary condition for democracy - and therefore a central consideration when evaluating a country's prospects for democratization.