REVIEW: On Muslim Democracy: Essays and Dialogue by Andrew F March and Rached Ghannouchi (Usman Butt, 3/11/24, MEMO)

Ghannouchi makes a critical shift in his political thinking from Islamism to Muslim democracy. He no longer seeks to create the ideal Islamic state. Instead, he is looking at core principles in light of democratic, pragmatic and pluralist Tunisia with all its virtues and flaws. March describes meeting Ghannouchi as being with a great living historical thinker, and insists that he should be considered in wider conversations about Muslims and democracy.

“Ghannouchi’s political theory was noteworthy for the role he imagined for an active, engaged, and deliberative democratic populus,” explains March, who argues that Ghannouchi breaks with dominant Western philosophical approaches to democracy. “Unlike Montesquieuian and Madisonian theories of the separation of powers and institutional pluralism as the ultimate check against tyranny, Ghannouchi had long stressed public virtue and public opinion.”

However, Ghannouchi also breaks with Islamic theorists. “Unlike traditional Islamic theories that placed custodianship of the law in the hands of jurists exclusively, Ghannouchi imagined the realisation of Islamic law as largely a public deliberative process involving not only experts but also ordinary citizens-believers.”

The latter idea has undergone an evolution with Ghannouchi seeing elected parliamentary members as being the check on authoritarianism. In my view, though, the “citizens-believers” bestow authority on the members of parliament, who then carryout this function, and so Ghannouchi’s current line of thinking is not a million miles away from his original line. Ghannouchi insisted on the popular will as part of the process of realising Shariah and being essential for governance, which puts him at odds with a number of Islamist thinkers.

Accepting the imperfectability of the Ummah is the whole magilla.