The achievement of democracy in the Arab world has been and probably will remain to be an elusive dream. In the past few years, Arab countries, including Syria, Libya, and Egypt, have been struggling with wars, the reason for which was autocratic leadership. There are various academicians who have expressed their opinions concerning the possibility that the Arab world will never become democratic. The majority of these commentators feel that the doors of democracy have closed in the Arab world. However, there are a few who still hope and believe that the Arab world will understand and adopt democracy. The purpose of this research paper is to answer the following question: Is there any chance for the Arab region to witness democratic representative political systems?The paper will answer this question by focusing on summarizing the findings published in three articles.
Has the Door Closed on Arab Democracy?
“Has the Door Closed on Arab Democracy?” is an articled authored by Tarek Masoud and published by The John Hopkins University Press in the Journal of Democracy in January 2015. The author is an associate professor of public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He has vast experience of governance in Arab countries, which is why he co-authored two books including the most recent The Arab Spring: Pathways of Repression and Reform and Counting Islam: Religion, Class, and Elections in Egypt.
In the referenced article, Tarek Masoud begins by giving the account of how hopeful the world has been about the adoption of democratic leadership in Arab countries. The author refers to the case of the scholar Daniel Brumberg who expressed his optimism 25 years ago. Daniel Brumberg believed that the democratic revolution that had changed Latin America and Eastern Europe would eventually make sense to Arab countries and eliminate authoritarianism. However, the much expected democratic leadership has not yet been experienced more than two decades after Brumberg’s article was published. Instead, Tarek Masoud notes that the Arab world lacks the level of tolerance and compromise that is required for democracy to thrive. For this simple reason, Tarek Masoud clearly states that the door of democracy closed in the Arab world.
Tarek Masoud attempts to make his readers understand how the doors of democracy began to close and eventually closed. He takes his readers back to the 1990s when Hosni Mubarak, the former President of Egypt, supported a democratic election in 1984 and 1987. His counterpart in Jordan, King Hussein, followed suit by re-opening Jordan’s legislature in 1989. The legislature had been closed since 1960. In Africa’s Algeria, democratic elections were held in 1990 only for the army to take control in an attempt to convince people that democracy had to be destroyed to be built again. In the real sense, these countries eventually slipped into autocratic regimes. The scholars that Tarek Masoud and Daniel Brumberg hoped would lead the revolution to democratic leadership in the Arab world were either killed or sent to exile, thus instilling fear among the remaining few. Ideally, Tarek Masoud states that the authoritarian and autocratic leaders of the Arab countries mastered the art of systemic linear governance by aligning the systems of governance to authoritarianism and conducting farce elections. Today, the war on terrorism has engrossed the ideas and thoughts of political leaders in the Arab world, and they are now not worried about putting democratic leadership in place but about how they will protect themselves from the terrorist elements next door.
The electioneering procedures failed for the Arab world, but the same cannot be said concerning the power of the people. The youth in the Arab world seem to understand much better the importance of democratic leadership. It is for this reason that the Arab Spring began in 2011 affecting regimes in countries like Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria. Among the affected countries, it is only Tunisia that can proudly claim the benefits of democracy. Egypt managed to unseat Hosni Mubarak, but the situation remains shaky, while in Libya, the autocratic regime has been replaced by multiple cells of terrorist organization groups, including ISIL. In Syria, the autocratic president still holds on to power, showing no signs of the defeat. It appears that he enjoys killing his people who can no longer fight for their rights because they find themselves between a rock and a hard place as they fight the regime and ISIL altogether.
The Arab Spring serves as a single major sign of failure in the Arab world. The other indicator is the scoring provided by the Freedom House. Tarek Masoud uses the freedom scores from 16 Arab countries. Out of the 16, only two countries have improved their scores over the period mentioned in the review, and these include Tunisia and Libya. The scoring encompasses countries whose levels of freedom have declined, and conspicuous in this category is Iraq. Essentially, the freedom house scores use expert assessments to rate countries as either free, or partly free, or not free. The score indicates signs of failed leadership in the Arab world, and Tarek Masoud states that there will be at least 20 more years before the democratic revolution finally changes in the Arab world.
The Arab Spring has been termed as the opening of a long process toward democracy for the Arab, and despite the imminent challenges, this is the strongest indicator that Arab countries have the chance to witness democratic representative political systems. Proponents of this statement indicate that transition to democracy takes time. Tarek Masoud notes that this assertion is misplaced in that the communist revolution of 1989 in Eastern Europe resulted in a paradigm shift within two years and in five countries. Secondly, Tarek Masoud states that the world should be wary of the inevitability of the long-term transition to democracy; yet all signs indicate that the Arab world is on a descent toward tougher leadership. However, the author does not dispute the fact that it might take longer for the Arab world to conceive and adopt democracy any time soon because of various reasons. The first reason is that all the Arab countries, except for the OPEC states, are poor and exhibit high illiteracy levels. It makes it harder for them to transit to democracies. The second problem is the cultural orientation of the Muslim world which happens to be common to all the Arab countries. The third problem is the absence of tolerance; yet tolerance and compromise are the key elements of democratic leadership. The factors contribute to the understanding and conception of democracy. However, Tarek Masoud asserts that it is highly likely that the understanding of democracy has more relevance to democratization than the culture and literacy among other factors mentioned herein. The author’s argument is based on the fact that there are democratic countries, such as Nigeria, which have Islam as the most popular religion and culture; yet they managed to establish as strong democracies. The bottom line is that the Arab Spring intensified the war for democratic leadership, and this has an effect on the future in that it gives a sense of hope that a one-day democracy will mean something to the Arab region.
In his closing remarks, Tarek Masoud focuses on the future of democracy in the Arab world. He makes various points concerning the direction of democracy in this region. The first point is that the Arab Spring has changed the perception of democracy and made it a point of interest for other countries, such as Morocco, that weathered the violence. Secondly, Tarek Masoud makes the point that it will take longer for democracy to take root in the Arab world. Thirdly, the author states that the autocratic leaders in the Arab countries could be the only people in a position to effect changes in their countries by driving reforms informed by the recent violence in the Arab world. From the paper, the author suggests that although democracy can be heard in far apart cries and it is still elusive, it will eventually come, but probably not in the ways that many people would expect or hope for.
Why the Modest Harvest?
The second article of interest is titled “Why the Modest Harvest?” It was authored by Jason Brownlee, Tarek Masoud, and Andrew Reynolds and published in 2013 in the Journal of Democracy. The article is among many published in light of the Arab Spring. In this article, the trio seeks to understand why after three years of wars tied to the Arab Spring, the conception of democracy in the Arab world has remained elusive. In particular, the authors are transfixed on the fact that three years after the beginning of the Arab Spring, countries like Tunisia and Egypt are still struggling with institutional reforms as well as with social violence. The authors are concerned with the fact that after continuous bloodshed and violence for about three years, the dictators appear to be winning whether directly like in the case of Syria and Bahrain or through indirect means such as the military coup in Egypt. The worst part, the authors clearly say, relates to the fact that Arab leaders in countries not affected by the revolution seem not perturbed by the events of the Arab uprising.
According to the authors of this article, the ‘modest harvest’ referred to in the title relates to the fact that the benefits expected from the Arab uprising did not come to fruition. It is especially evident when the case is compared to the mass demonstrations that inspired democratic changes in Eastern Europe in the year 1989. The mass demonstrations in the Arab world were not as inspirational as expected; and from an analytical perspective, the Arab Spring only resulted in the replacement of one dictator with another. The case of Egypt provides the best example where Hosni Mubarak was replaced with Morsi and later the military takeover. The central objective of the essay is to explain why such regime changes take place in only four Arab countries and have only modest or dismal results.
From their study, the authors have uncovered three major observations. Firstly, the uprising has not resulted in the creation of democratic regimes. Secondly, the countries with large oil reserves and revenue were not affected, and if affected, the mass demonstrations escalated to violence as the leaders attempted to cement their autocratic leadership by the use of the military force. It also heavily contributed to the violence in the uprising, and it also induced the outcomes of the regime change. The last factor in the uprising regards the issue of hereditary succession. Where hereditary succession links had been established, the uprising appeared to be more violent than where there were no such succession links. Concerning the lack of uprisings in many Arab countries, the article asserts that the random nature of the uprisings did not inspire change since the uprisings were not structured, meaning that no preconditions were set before the uprising.
Brownlee, Masoud, and Reynolds focus on the theoretical conceptions of the Arab uprising. There have been several studies and theories surrounding revolutionary regime changes. The majority of past theories focused on the proximate cause of revolutions. In the case of the Arab Spring, the proximate cause theories would assist in explaining that massive discontent in the Arab countries inspired the uprising. However, none of the past theories explained the outcome of the revolutions in four countries where the revolts took place. Firstly, they do not provide evidence as to why the autocratic regimes were replaced by other autocratic regimes. Secondly, the previous theories do not explain why the regime of Bashar Al Assad of Syria continued to thrive in the midst of the revolution. Lastly, the theories do not elucidate why the uprising only affected four countries and not the entire Arab region, which includes North African countries and the Middle East.
Brownlee, Masoud, and Reynolds have attempted to explain the differences in nature and outcomes of the revolution in the affected countries. The authors indicate that the failure of the military to support their autocratic leaders in Tunisia and Egypt led to their eventual collapse. They also provide evidence why the regime of the leaders in Libya and Syria took too long or have not yet been toppled. They also explain the events of Yemen uprising. Further, the proximate cause theories failed to explain why it took so long to topple Al Assad; yet his country does not have the oil and gas wealth that Qaddafi had.
The three authors focus more on developing a conceptual framework that would be important in explaining the revolution for democracy and its outcomes in 14 out of 16 Arab countries. In their prediction, the researchers exclude Iraq and Lebanon based on the fact that although the two countries have multiparty systems in place, even they still score poorly on the Freedom House scores. They focus on three key elements to help elucidate the advent of the uprising, the time differentials, and the outcomes of the uprising. The three elements include cash, commitment, and control. With money, a leader can manage to save the mass demonstrations based on two grounds. The first is that the leader can bribe the enemies, thus neutralizing the threat by buying their loyalty. Secondly, the access to financing, especially from oil proceeds, means that the leader can comfortably purchase ammunition and maintain armies. It also means that such a leader can buy the loyalty of the military and is consequently more likely to remain in control.
Other than the money from oil and gas, there is the concern of dynasticism. It relates to the idea of hereditary succession and, as Max Weber put it in his theory, dynasticism relates to what gets referred to as personalistic or sultanistic regimes. In Tunisia and Egypt, the leadership lacked deep roots in dynasticim, and this explains why it was rather difficult for Mubarak and Ali to be unseated from their leadership positions. On the other hand, Qaddafi and Assad had already established sultanism, and this might have contributed to the lengthy time of their conquests. To a large extent, the same case applies to Bahrain and Yemen.
According to Brownlee, Masoud, and Reynolds, oil wealth and dynasticism do not assist in explaining only that causation but also the outcomes. In particular, there are two outcomes that were of interest to the trio, and they all related to the observation that mass discontent among the citizens would result in either of the two. The first outcome relates to an uprising such as the ones experienced in the countries herein mention. Secondly, there is domestic regime change and continuity. This particular outcome stems from the possibility to conduct reforms in the countries in question. The article also establishes two critical pathways to regime changes with the opposition parties winning in the poor countries that do not have oil wealth and the need for eliminating hereditary succession schemes in the oil-rich countries. At times, there may be the need for foreign intervention, which explains the case of Libya where NATO forces and the United States employed their resources in the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi. The same applies to the case of Syria. In their final remarks, Brownlee, Masoud, and Reynolds assert that by following the oil wealth and dynstacism variables, it might be easier to predict regime changes. It implies that structural factors are important in determining the possibility of regime changes. In order to enjoy democracy, Arab leaders need to focus on ending dynasticism, fostering a change in their political systems. It will mark the beginning of reforms leading to the democratic rule.
What’s Gone Wrong with Democracy?
Even after the collapse of autocratic leadership in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, the countries still find the democratic rule being elusive. This is why there was a military coup on Morsi in Egypt and the election in Libya has always been flawed. In Ukraine, the president was overthrown in 2004 only to be re-elected in 2010 after the opposition proved inefficient. These occurrences draw attention to the fact that nations find it simpler to oust autocratic leaders than establish flourishing democracies. It is the theme of the third article that was published by The Economist and titled “What’s gone wrong with democracy?”This article seeks to understand why democratic freedoms have contracted over the last few years and whether there is anything that the world can do to revive democracy and make it attractive again.
To begin with, the article outlines the advantages of the democratic rule that have always made democracy so attractive. The article states that in democratic countries, people have better standards of living. The democratic country is less likely to go to war as compared to the autocratic and kleptocratic states. Additionally, the article also records that democratic nations are on average richer than other nations. Despite the various strong points of democracy, the article claims that democracy is experiencing a rather difficult time. The opening of democratic space has slowed in the 21st century as compared to the 20th century, with elections being used for public opinion and corrupt systemic autocratic regimes running the country in the shadows. This is why an autocratic regime is replaced with another despite the Arab uprising.
According to the article, there have been two major setbacks to democracy. The first setback was the last financial crisis. Analysts argue that the financial crises that occurred in the 2008/2009 period exposed the weaknesses of the democratic systems in Europe and the USA. Decision making is harder in democratic nations as compared to the autocratic nations. This is why supporters of governance in China criticize democracy. Statistically, 85% of the Chinese are happy with the governance of their country as compared to 35% in the USA. The economic triumphs that China has made over the last two decades are also a contributing factor in that a rather authoritarian leadership delivers more than the democracies across the world. Apart from the factor above, the invasion of Iraq by the USA has also affected democracy, and this is probably why there has been a slowdown in the success of democratic nations over the last decade. Moreover, there is the third setback that is the failure of Egypt. The final aspect is the introduction of the euro as the currency for the European Union in 1999.
From the article, it is possible to identify the source of problems in the democracies and help explain why it might remain to be an elusive dream for the Arab world. The first is the leadership in democratic countries. Politicking takes the center stage as the development projects get relegated to the corner of the agenda. Secondly, decision making is difficult in democracies. Thirdly, the people in democratic nations cause problems by themselves by enjoying momentary pleasure and launching protests against their government. A good example is the case of Egypt where the people protested against the election of Morsi, leading to his ouster by the military. The fourth problem is the advent of technology and the narrowing difference between fun and protests. The rebellions in the Arab world were triggered by the social media; and after the ouster of the leaders, the establishment of democracies became difficult.
Based on these complexities associated with democracy and the evidence of attempted fails in the establishment of democracy in the Arab countries, the article focuses on looking at how democracies can be made to work. However, the Arab world has the chance to enjoy the fruits of democracy by following the steps envisioned in the article. The first thing is the need for strong and decisive leadership or, how the article calls it, hardheadedness. Secondly, there is a strong need for strong constitutional frameworks. Thirdly, democracies need national and foreign leaders to oppose other international and national rulers engaging in illiberal behavior regardless of whether the majority in that nation supports such a behavior. The fourth point is that reformers must become more ambitious, and the citizens scrutinize the architecture of political systems in their country. Checks and balances to the political systems should be more solid, and the leaders in government need to exercise more tolerance and restraint against the illiberal behavior. Getting the mix of these factors right will reform the face of democracy, and people in the autocratic nations will again start admiring and yearn for the democratic rule. The Arab countries will also be able to witness the democratic rule.
In conclusion, this paper has investigated whether there is any chance for the Arab region to witness democratic representative political systems. The paper summarizes the findings of three articles, which were inspired by the recent developments in the Arab Spring and the developments of major global democracies. From the assessment, the Arab world will have the opportunity to experience democracy. However, this will take at least 20 years according to the findings of Tarek Masoud. From the perspective of Brownlee, Masoud, and Reynolds, the attainment of democratic leadership will be dependent on two variables, which include oil wealth and dynasticism. The global leaders also have a role to play by making democracies work in their respective nations and also by indicating illiberal behavior even in light of majoritarianism.