Administrative, Military, And Judicial Reform

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The modern states of the Middle East are remnants of the Ottoman (Turkish) and Safavid (Persian) dominions, the last of the great Muslim empires. These countries not only share common religious and historical legacies but have also experienced very similar colonial and postcolonial influences. The term "Middle East" in fact alludes to the colonial encounter and was coined by the Allied forces (the British, Free French, and Americans) during the Second World War to indicate a single military theater for operational and supply purposes. The area in question thus encompasses the Arab world as well as the non-Arab countries of Turkey and Iran. To fully appreciate developments in the post-independence period—after 1945—events that led to the modern state system must be briefly charted.

World War I resulted in the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of mandate territories run as colonies. This gave rise to strong anti-colonial, nationalist movements, especially in Turkey and Iran, which emerged as independent states in 1923 and 1921, respectively. Egypt gained independence in 1922, when the British withdrew from direct control, and Saudi Arabia attained sovereignty in 1926. The period after World War II was characterized by rapid independence, and between 1945 and 1946 Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan all witnessed the disappearance of the European presence. However, the authority of the West still weighed burdensomely upon the region and determined the manner in which these countries reconstituted themselves in light of modern developments. This influence continues to the present day.

Three of the most significant factors challenging reform and growth in the region have been the discovery of oil, the strengthening of the United States' position after World War II, and the creation of the state of Israel. These factors had, and continue to have, a direct impact upon reform initiatives, manifesting themselves differently depending upon the social and cultural conditions of the individual countries of the region,


Reza Shah Pahlevi (1925–1941) was able to create a strongly centralized state by using the army, thereby leaving an enduring legacy of military intervention in Iranian politics right up to the Islamic revolution in 1979. Muhammad Reza, who succeeded his father in 1941, initially indulged party politics, but soon followed his father's example and used his control over the army to re-establish royal authority. Prior to this however, Iranian politics (between 1945 and 1953) was extremely turbulent, due to both internal and external factors.

Throughout the 1940s, the political scene was driven by British, Soviet, and American interests competing for influence. The United States was able to forge close ties with the Iranian army, while Britain sought a privileged position for its oil interests. The placing of Iran's economic and military development in the hands of foreigners created growing consternation among Iranian nationalists, and in 1950 a group of politicians led by Mohammed Mosaddeq were able to obtain sufficient support in the Majlis (parliament) to act against the Anglo-Iranian oil company, nationalizing its Iranian assets. In 1951 the Majlis nationalized the oil industry altogether, and also elected Mosaddeq as prime minister. However, his reform efforts were short-lived and he was overthrown in a U.S.–assisted coup in 1953, largely due to American fears of Soviet influence over Iran. Mosaddeq's overthrow enabled the shah to create his royal dictatorship, and with the assistance of U.S. and Israeli advisors he formed SAVAK, his notorious secret police service.

From 1953 to 1979 there was absolutely no political freedom in Iran. In 1963 the shah was severely criticized by a then still-obscure member of the religious establishment, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini was arrested by SAVAK in June 1963 and deported to Turkey in 1964. In the following year he was deported to Iraq, where he stayed, preaching and writing. In 1978 he was forced to go to France. However, Khomeini returned to Iran in triumph in 1979, as leader of one of the most spectacular and unexpected revolutions in modern history.

The shah's dictatorial policies robbed Khomeini of all political legitimacy and were ultimately responsible for his downfall. Most of his 1961 to 1963 White Revolution reforms centered on huge military spending and benefits offered to appease the officer corps. By 1976 Iran had the fifth largest military force in the world. Khomeini's efforts at economic and social development were miserable failures, with the exception of the literacy drive, which enjoyed measurable success. In 1975 he scrapped the two-party system and introduced the single National Resurgence Party. It was ultimately the shah's brutal response to unarmed protests in 1978 that ignited the revolution. The clergy were able to effect large-scale uprisings, and emerged as the representatives of the masses.

The new government, under the leadership of Ruhollah Khomeini, initially made efforts to include secular elements. Mehdi Bazargan, the secular reformist, was made the first prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ultimately, however, the idea that social, political, and economic change could only be achieved by the renewal of an Islamic order prevailed, ushering in the Khomeini era, in which Iran was transformed into a theocracy ruled by the clergy.

Khomeini died in 1989, and the post-Khomeini period has once again surprised analysts with the emergence of liberal-minded reformists. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Iran's president, Mohammad Khatami, has even called for increased powers of the elected assembly over the ulema's Council of Guardians, and he appears to be trying to reconcile a deeply religious political ethos with the principles of representative government.


After independence in 1923, Turkish politics was dominated by the single-party rule of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's authoritarian Republican People's Party (RPP). His successor, who assumed office in 1938, departed from Ataturk's economic policies and lessened government sponsorship of industrial development. This was largely in response to pressure from the Turkish business sector, which sought more freedom for private entrepreneurial activity, and pressure from the peasantry, which was displeased with the government's bias in favor of industrialization over agricultural development. Government also responded to pressure from intellectuals and politicians critical of the single-party dispensation by allowing greater political freedom. As a result, four members of the national assembly defected from the RPP in 1946 and formed a new party, called the Democratic Party (DP).

Although the democrats were only able to win sixty-five seats in the 1946 elections, they were able to extend their influence tremendously over the next four years and won 396 of the 465 seats in the national assembly in 1950. The DP showed greater sensitivity to religious sentiments and restored the public call to prayer in Arabic (which had previously been banned), maintained and developed mosques, and offered religious instruction to all Muslim students in primary schools on a voluntary basis. It still, however, strongly upheld the principal of secularism.

Economic policies instituted by the democrats were geared towards agricultural reform in order to appease their support-base among the peasantry, but when the economy began to suffer they came under severe public criticism. The government responded harshly by introducing extremely repressive restrictions against the press, and even brought in the army to quell violent protests. They further exploited ruling-party privilege by using the army to disrupt RPP campaign rallies. Such irresponsibility met with a severe backlash, and on 27 May 1960 the military stepped in to institute the first coup d'état.

Military intervention became commonplace in Turkish politics, but remains unique in that power was always handed back to civilian politicians. The military establishment was primarily concerned with upholding the principle of Kemalism, but equally committed to the system of multi-party politics. The 1960 intervention lasted for only eighteen months, in which time the constitution was revised to protect the rights of individuals and assert the principle of secularism.

The period between 1961 and 1983 witnessed the proliferation of political parties, with attendant political upheaval and instability. The military instituted two more coups, in 1971 and 1980, and further constitutional amendments were introduced. In addition to the rise and fall of various coalition governments, civil order was also threatened by Kurdish separatist aspirations and by the rise of Islamic revivalism, led by the National Salvation Party. Islamist parties have had to constantly re-invent themselves under different guises due to the military's censure of "anti-secular" politics. This trend has set contemporary Turkish politics to sway between two poles: that of a re-emergent Islamist ideal versus a secular-liberal ideal seemingly on the wane. Just below the surface, however, lies the powerful military, which keeps the powers-that-be decisively in check.

In 1997 the Islamist Refah (Welfare) Party's leader was forced to step down due to pressure from the National Security Council, and the party itself was closed down the following year on charges of anti-secular activities. Refah reconstituted as the Fazilat Party, which was also banned in 2001. In spite of this, the 2002 elections were won by the Justice and Development Party, which emerged from the modernizing wing of the Fazilat Party. Although enjoying overwhelming support from the masses, the Justice and Development Party will have to constrain its constituency's aspirations or face the fate of all its Islamist predecessors.

The Arab States

In contrast to the relatively effective constitutional regimes of Iran and Turkey, the Arab States of the Middle East are ruled by either monarchies or military dictators. It is important to note that the regions' dictatorships are a result of the social and political processes of the twentieth century. The Arab defeat at the hands of Israel in the 1967 war and the changing structure of global politics due to Cold War competition were the main factors responsible for the polarization of the Arab states and the tempering of Arab Nationalist sentiments that were so strongly evoked by the Egyptian leader Jamal ˓Abd al-Nasser, especially between 1953 and 1967.

By 1945 the massive influx of wealth into the Arab states, primarily due to oil revenues, served as the single impetus for development, especially in terms of infrastructure and nation-building. However, progress was undermined by defeat in the first Arab-Israeli war from 1948 to 1949, as well the failure to cope with internal political, economic and social pressures. The resultant backlash brought about a series of military coups: in Syria in 1949, Egypt in 1952, Sudan and Iraq in 1958, North Yemen in 1962, and Libya in 1969. The remaining countries, including Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States, were all monarchies and effectively one-party states. The only exception was Lebanon, where the existence of parliamentary or party politics has been essential in order to balance the interests of both Christians and Muslims.

The sharp rise in oil prices in the early 1970s led to ambitious programs of social and economic development, and even had a positive impact upon the non-oil producing states like Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, which were able to benefit from the new wealth through workers' remittances and financial aid. In the 1950s and 1960s, the military was seen as an instrument of modernization and change, but by the 1970s this image was severely damaged largely due to defeats on the battlefield and failed agrarian and industrialization reform policies.

The two major home-grown ideologies up to this point were Nasserism and Ba˓thism, impacting most significantly upon Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Egypt under Nasser embodied the aspirations of the Arab world, facing a future freed of the imperial past, newly independent and equally assertive. From the time of the Free Officers' coup in 1952 up until the Arab-Israeli War in June of 1967, Nasser was seen as a dynamic president who had set in motion a positive process of national transformation. As a result Egypt exercised profound regional influence in this period.

However, Nasserism as a doctrine tried to satisfy too many conflicting aspirations. As such, it was able to position itself neither as religious nor secular, democratic nor authoritarian, socialist nor capitalist. It contained aspects of all but faltered in privileging any one of these as the most important. The defeat in 1967 marked the true end of Nasserism. Hereafter, Nasser allowed the Soviet Union to acquire dominant influence in the military. He dropped the quest for Arab unity and the hopes he had raised were finally shattered with his death in 1970. His successor, Anwar Sadat (1918–1981), was left to fill the void.

Although lacking the charisma of Nasser, Sadat was able to reorient Egyptian domestic and foreign policy in ways that were every bit as profound as Nasser's. He realigned Egypt with the superpowers in favor of the United States by expelling Soviet military advisors and by courting peace with Israel, not before redeeming Egyptian honor by defeating the Israelis in the October 1973 war. Sadat's U.S.–brokered treaty with Israel earned him the discontent of militant Islamic groups in Egypt. His clampdown on these groups ultimately led to his assassination on 6 October 1981.

Ba˓thism, in contrast to Nasserism, was characterized by a more sharply defined set of principles. Michel ˓Aflaq (1910–1989), the cofounder of the Ba˓th Party, defined its role in stirring and romantic language. The party was conceived of as an instrument of social justice and was supposed to be at the vanguard of Arab unity. It attracted young Arabs of the post-independence era eager to restore Arab dignity, especially in Syria and Iraq.

Aflaq was, however, in no way comparable to Nasser in terms of leadership qualities. Lacking a politician of ability to implement its vision, the party's plans were thwarted as it divided into regional groupings and quarreling factions. Ambitious men like Syria's Hafiz al-Asad (1930–2000) and Iraq's Saddam Husayn (1937–) used the party's apparatus and ideology to serve their own ends. In the hands of al-Asad and Husayn the Ba˓th became a means of survival their respective regimes and they utilized it as an effective instrument of control and indoctrination.

As such, the party lost its pan-Arab mission and developed rival Syrian and Iraqi branches. Common to both, however, was severe political repression, although social reforms were in some instances significant. Syria still remains an authoritarian dictatorship under Bashar al-Asad (b. 1965), Hafiz al-Asad's son and heir, whereas the political future of Iraq after the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Husayn in April of 2003 is uncertain.

In the 1980s, the biggest challenge that faced the Arab regimes was the re-emergence of Islamic reformism, which was greatly influenced by the Islamic revolution in Iran. The Islamic reform movements were largely unsuccessful due to the foreign support offered to the various regimes in order to protect their own interests. A striking example is the overthrow of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria by the military after a landslide victory in the first round of parliamentary elections held in December 1991. Voters had rejected the National Liberation Front that had ruled the country as a single party for thirty years. The Islamic Salvation Front was poised to gain a decisive parliamentary majority, but the military intervened, declaring the elections null and void. A notable exception, however, was the successful establishment of an Islamic regime in Sudan in 1989.

The United States in the early twenty-first century exercises undisputed influence over the Middle East, and it is difficult to envisage the flourishing of any popular movement representative of the political aspirations and ambitions of the civilian populations in these countries. This is borne out by the United States' heavy-handed policies towards countries with well-established systems of representative government, like Sudan and Iran, and its tolerance and open allegiance to repressive regimes like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia, which are notorious for their gross violations of human rights. American support for Israel in terms of massive financial assistance and the turning of a blind eye to the occupation of Palestine also leaves little hope for resolving conflict and diffusing tensions in the region as a whole. The U.S.–led invasion of Iraq in April of 2003 only signals the perpetuation of the old colonial paradigm of political, military, and economic domination and exposes the divide between the vested interests of a powerful center and ultimate regional self determination on the periphery. These are but some of the major factors that hinder positive reform and progress in the Middle East.

Judicial Reform

The process of judicial reform in the Middle East had already begun in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the Ottoman Empire and Egypt began appropriating Western legal codes that were mostly derived from French and British models. The immediate effect of these measures was the reduction of the scope of Islamic law or shari˓a, jurisdiction.

With the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of the modern republic of Turkey, a fairly complete secularization of the law code was effected in that country, even in matters of personal status. The shari˓a was effectively purged from the new statute books. However, developments in the neighboring regions were far more gradual.

Iran, under Reza Shah Pahlevi, adopted a version the Swiss family law code that remained in effect until after the revolution. The shah's obsession with Western models of development drove his reform initiatives, and some of the family protection laws instituted between 1967 and 1975 granted women greater legal equality within marriage. Unlike the case of Turkey and Tunisia, however, the shah did not abolish polygamy. However, the husband was required to take the consent of his current wife in order to marry another.

The most significant reform initiative in the Arab states was the introduction of the new Egyptian civil code, framed by ˓Abd al-Razzaq al-Sanhuri in 1949. Al-Sanhuri drew upon existing legislation, contemporary Western codes, and the shari˓a in formulating the code, although its final shape was more French than Islamic. Other Arab states also amended their codes and continued to increase the centralization of their courts. The Egyptian model inspired many of these efforts. Al-Sanhuri was also called upon to formulate the Iraqi and Kuwaiti codes later on.

A notable exception to the reform trend is seen in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Neither of these countries came under British protection and the early Ottoman reforms were not that far-reaching. As such, the pre-existing shari˓a system was never restricted. In more recent times Yemen has made efforts to centralize and codify its legal system, whereas in Saudi Arabia the shari˓a courts still retain general jurisdiction.

The period of malaise in the Middle East after 1967 prompted militants and ordinary citizens alike to express desire for the re-establishment of the shari˓a. Muslim intellectuals have generally favored the idea that rulers are subject to and must therefore enforce laws that are not entirely of their own making. This is but one strong inclination that ensures the continuing appeal for calls to re-introduce the shari˓a and its role in future legal reforms cannot be easily dismissed or discounted.

See also˓Abd al-Nasser, Jamal ; ˓Abd al-Razzaq al-Sanhuri ; Ataturk, Mustafa Kemal ; Iran, Islamic Republic of ; Islamic Salvation Front ; Khomeini, Ruhollah ; Modernization, Political: Participation, Political Movements, and Parties ; Mosaddeq, Mohammad ; Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlevi ; Revolution: Islamic Revolution in Iran .


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Aslam Farouk-Alli

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Administrative, Military, And Judicial Reform

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