Are there any objectively successful democracies in the world? Sure. Depending on your criteria of what constitutes success. These will generally be societies in which they understand that democracy is more than merely the right to vote in elections; it requires a level of genuine social balance of power, material security, and constraints on the political influence of the owners of capital.There is an organization based in Austria called the Democracy Ranking Association, which has put together a fairly reasonable criteria for assessing the democratic credibility of countries around the world. The criteria is split up into 6 different social dimensions, including the political system, economics, education, health and so on.
Not surprisingly, the countries with the highest democratic ratings share some common characteristics. They all have a high ratio of public spending to GDP, high percentage of workers belonging to active labor unions, an extensive social welfare safety net, socialized healthcare, and a comparatively low level of income inequality. They also generally rank as countries with the happiest populations.
You will also find that public awareness and activism regarding corporate power are higher than in other countries. For example, Switzerland (ranked #2 by the organization), recently voted on a referendum that would limit CEO salaries to no more than 12 times the salaries of a company’s lowest paid employees. The proposal was ultimately defeated, but the fact that such a proposal even reached a vote is remarkable. Not only would that never happen in the United States, no one would even think to propose it.
Here it is worth mentioning the importance of “direct democracy” through the mechanism of ballot initiatives. This is something the Islamists need to fight for. In Switzerland, anybody who can gather at least 100,000 signatures has the chance to put a ballot initiative before the country’s voters. On average, half of such initiatives garner enough popular support to pass, and even the ones that don’t pass, have an impact on political discourse, not only within the country, but elsewhere as well. For example, the CEO salary cap initiative that did not pass in Switzerland, became part of the platform for a political party in Spain. It is a highly influential mechanism for building awareness and support for policy alternatives.
Imagine if access to ballot initiatives existed in Egypt, and you could collect enough signatures to force a referendum on things like government contracts with foreign energy companies, or cancellation of debts accumulated by the Mubarak regime! Even if the measures were defeated in a popular vote (which I doubt they would be), the issues would have been raised, and they would not go away.
Whoever believes that Islam forbids democratic mechanisms does not understand the religion, our history, or our current predicament. There is no democratic participation in matters regulated by Revelation, but any and every other matter is, and should be, subject to popular consultation and consent.
The Sahabah understood this, and never hesitated to offer their opinions even to Rasulullah ﷺ himself, once they had clarified that the matter was not determined by Divine Wahy.
When Hubab ibn al-Mundhir asked Rasulullah ﷺ if his selection of the base camp for the Muslims at Badr was an instruction from Allah, or just the Prophet’s ﷺ opinion; he was ascertaining whether or not he could offer an alternative. When he knew that it was not determined by Revelation, he immediately advised changing the location, and it was a better choice. When Rasulullah ﷺ suggested making a deal with some of the Arab tribes participating with the Quraysh in the Ahzaab battle, the Ansar asked if the proposal was based on Revelation. When they knew it wasn’t, they rejected the idea.
That is democratic.
The legitimacy of a Khalifah is derived from the bay’ah, which means the consent of the governed. As soon as selection of the ruler was not made by consultation, the government ceased to be Khulafah Rashida, and we entered into the era of kings. It is quite the opposite of what some Islamists claim; democratic mechanisms do not contradict Islamic government, they are an essential element of it.
The countries that rank the highest in the democracy index, mostly in Scandinavia, also tend to be countries with high levels of promiscuity, drug use, and moral relativism. Here you find the basis for most of the Islamist arguments against democracy; but the problem here is not democracy, it is kufr. In a society where the people are enslaved to their own desires, freedom can become self-destructive and the democratic process has no moral framework. Under a Shari’ah constitution, this would not be the case.
No Islamic political system can succeed without democratic mechanisms, and no democracy can truly succeed without an Islamic framework. They are not contradictory, but complementary; you cannot really have one without the other.