Democratisation is defined as a change in political regimewithin a sovereign state from non- democracy to democracy. It is a process thatchanges political life, it is not an event.
This essay will discuss how theearly modernisation theory analysis of provisions proved uncertain and culturalexceptional arguments are identified merely as an intervening variable inregards to the Arab Spring. The theories of development imbalances and nationbuilding set backs are the main reasons as to why democracy failed in theMiddle East and North Africa. Samuel Huntingdon had described this global change as”Democracy’s Third Wave”. Most democratic transitions, resembling what had occurredduring the Arab Spring are mostly due to either political pacts, breakdownsbetween civil and military elites, international pressure or in this casegrassroots movements demanding a change. TheMiddle East and North Africa saw mass social protests for democratisation andjustice that led to the disintegrating of the longstanding authoritariangovernments in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011. The financial meltdown of 2008 in theMiddle East and North Africa had a consequently global economic crisis which ledto rising food prices, resulting in strikes and street protests in Egypt. Thereand elsewhere in the region, the mixture of high unemployment, high cost ofliving, and authoritarian rule heightened popular frustration. The proteststhen spread quickly to Morocco in February 2011 in a rush to get justice fromthe authoritarian regimes.
The protests sparked elections in Tunisia, Moroccoand Egypt. Despite the uprisings that led to the ArabSpring; Egypt, Libya, or Tunisia under the dictatorships of Mubarak, Qadhafi,and Ben Ali, these countries have never had a fully institutionalisedtotalitarian regime.Currentdemocratisation theory lends itself to the early modernisation approach of the1950’s and 1960’s. Seymour Martin Lipset argued in 1959 through hismodernisation approach, the importance of various social and economic aspectsare essential to either liberal democracies or are required fordemocratisation. He demonstrated and directly linked democracy to thesocio-economic development of modernisation of a country. He classified largegroups of states in categories: stable and unstable democracies anddictatorships. He consequently compared them in terms of wealth and levels of industrialisation, education and urbanisation. The modernisation approach argued thatbeyond certain thresholds of economic development, societies became toomultifaceted and socially organised to be governed by authoritarian means.
The modernisation approach exhibited that countries ofa high income were more likely to be democratic and rising urbanisation,literacy and non agricultural employment which are indicators of socialmobilisation were associated with a heightened tendency to political participation.The modernisation approach however has problems in identifying the precipicesof modernisation required for democracy and beyond which authoritarianismceases to be feasible. In addition, modernisation levels are not conclusive andthey constitute to an environment that may be more or less facilitative ofcertain kinds of regime, preventing democracy only at the very lowest levelsand authoritarianism only at the very highest levels. Consequently, themodernisation approach can merely suggest that middle-income levelsrepresentative of the contemporary Middle East, democratisation is possible byno means necessary but it also exhibits about what conditions allowauthoritarianism to remain possible at such levels.
As a direct challenge to Lipset’s thesis both in termsof the approach and the essence of the arguments used, Dankwurt Rustow had claimedthat factors that stabilise a democratic regime ‘may not be the ones that brought it into existence’ and that many pathsto democracy may exist. He further went on to say democratisation need not be a’socially uniform’ process and that the views of citizens may differ from theviews of the politicians who live in the same place at the same time. Therelevance of the democratisation theory seems more questionable in the MiddleEast and Northern Africa.
Some have always regarded the region as exceptionallyculturally resistant to democratisation and the Middle East’s and NorthAfrica’s early liberal regimes quickly gave way to seemingly toughauthoritarianism after independence. Despite this, many scholars identified agrowing demand for democratisation and some movement towards it in the 1990s. Giventhe vagueness, the Middle East and North Africa can be interpreted to begenerally compatible with the argument that modernisation matters. Nonetheless,because democratisation did not happen in the Middle East and North Africa atthe income levels that produced some democratisation somewhere else, some mayargue that the cultural exceptionalism has decreased the relationship betweenincreased development and increased democratisation.
Islam is no restriction todemocratisation. Islamic parties in many countries have illustrated a supportfor democracy by participating in elections, however they are only likely to bean obstacle to democratisation when radicalised. The association of higherlevels of modernisation indicators such as literacy and modern employment withhigher political awareness holds no less in the Middle East and North Africa thanelsewhere and modern Islamism makes a positive religious duty of publicparticipation.Arguably,culture and religion has two impacts. It is important in terms of shapingnotions of political legitimacy and it is also plausible to say that Islamictraditions accept authoritarian leadership as long as it seems to serve thecollective interest of the community as well as defending them from outsidethreats and deliver welfare which makes people feel entitled. This essentially populistidea of leadership legitimacy is likely to be tolerant of populist versions ofauthoritarian rule.ModernIslamic concepts of leadership do also integrate accountability, and nowadayswhen authoritarian leadership fails to live up to Islamic standards it suffersde-legitimation widely, with Muslims forming or joining opposition movements.
Inthe Middle East and North Africa, conceptions of legitimacy are hardly fixedand they have not been unaffected by beliefs that procedural practices ofelectoral democracy might be the best way to ensure against leadershipdeparture from the legitimate model. Thesecond impact of culture or religion can originate from the popularity oftraditional loyalties. Some may argue that these make it harder to assemblestrong political parties or an international civil society. On the other handsome may also argue those authoritarian regimes or its leaders had manipulatedthis.
In short, Middle Eastern and Northern African culture is regarded as notan independent variable which obstructs democratisation but as an intervening variablein which formations of legitimacy are more tolerant of authoritarian leadershipunder certain conditions. Inthe Middle East and North Africa, modernisation was associated with new classesdeveloped from import-export business. The destabilisation of early democraciesresulted from the radicalisation of new middle classes. Even in the states withthe longest democratic experiences, military intervention in Turkey and civilwar in Lebanon could be linked to the inability of semi-democratic institutionsto incorporate newly mobilised social forces. Another obstacle to democratisationis the disparity between state and identity from disorganised territorialboundaries under imperialism. Rustow argued that the consolidation of nationalidentity was the first requisite stage in democratic transition; without this,electoral competition would only intensify communal conflict.
Inthe Middle East and North Africa the disintegration of the Arab world into amultitude of small weak states was the persistence of sub- and supra-stateidentities that weakened the identification with the state that was needed forstable democracy. In these conditions it’s easier for states to resort to authoritariansolutions where political mobilisation tends to worsen communal conflict orempower movements threatening the integrity of the state. In addition, the ArabSpring highlighted the division of small weak states and the need for democracyas well as overcoming disunity. Forthis reason, the main popular political movements, namely pan-Arabism andpolitical Islamists, have been inattentive with identity, unity andauthenticity, not democratisation. Where they have seized state power,state-building has often taken an authoritarian form, with leaders seekinglegitimacy, not through democratic consent but through the championing ofidentity; Arabism and Islam who are against imperialism and other enemies. Thedemand for democratisation cannot be met when the political forces that wouldlead the fight for it have been diverted into other concerns.
Onemore result of the way state systems were imposed was due to artificialboundaries that built irredentism to the states system. This in turn meant thatnew states were being caught between security predicaments in which many othersperceived as a threat. Among the Arab states the threats led to forms ofideological rebellions. The civil wars between states in the Middle East also exemplifiedthe wars over identity, territory and security. The insecurity and war hasnaturally paved way to the rise of national security states being hostiletowards democratisation.
The Arab Spring demonstrated its lack of ‘transition’into modernisation hence the obstacles to democratisation. The combination ofpopulation growth and increased social mobilisation meant the increasedeconomic inequality amongst states suffering political identity makes for anundemocratic environment. BarringtonMoore looked to social structure to explain political paths that states take.In its simplest terms, social structural analysis argues that democracy requiresa balance between the state/ruler and independent classes, in which the stateis neither wholly autonomous of dominant classes nor captured by them, allowinga space within which civil society can thrive. Despite this, thoroughtransformation of social structure emerges only at high levels ofmodernisation. Whilemodernisation has stimulated social mobility, it had also increased the growthof the educated middle class across the region and this class was initially theproduct of and dependent on the state. The special feature of the Middle East’spolitical economy, namely rentierism, shapes a certain regional exceptionalism.In many cases where large amounts of rent amass to the state and aredistributed as jobs and welfare benefits, ordinary people become highlydependent on the state for their livelihoods therefore, not being required topay taxes, are discouraged from mobilisation to demand representation.
At thesame time, the dependence of regimes on external sources of rent, whether oilrevenues or aid, attaches the interests of leaders to external markets andstates and shields them from accountability to their populations.Herbin 2005, argues that oil wealth leads to a misrepresentation of economicdevelopment on democratisation in oil-rich countries, not to a special kind ofrentier authoritarianism. Most bystanders have recognised the differencebetween Islam and authoritarianism to traditional values held by individualMuslims. Most research also agrees that countries with oil and Muslimpopulations are less likely to be democratic. It is also confirmed thatcountries with highly educated populations are more likely to be democratic.
Democracyshould be seen as a comprehensive and ongoing process at different levels ofsocial existence. Turkey, the one successful democratic transition in the ArabSpring suggests what conditions might assist it. Turkey’s agreement betweenidentity and territory provided the country with a national identity as well asclarity that democratisation can work and is less risky compared to other Arabstates. Turkey was still not spared periodicdemocratic breakdown, but coups have always been brief and aimed at restoringan elitist version of democracy. Insummary, authoritarianism is the main form of governance in the Middle East forseveral reasons.
The extreme hostile structural conditions that limitmodernisation as well as national problems, in particular class organisation. Theauthoritarian leaders have also found the resources to help build strongermodernised forms of authoritarianism compatible with their environments. Theseregimes have also assembled institutions incorporating forces that enable themto manage their societies.Twopaths to democratization are possible. If reformist authoritarian regimes candeliver increased rule of law, better regulatory frameworks, educationalreforms and merit-based recruitment to the bureaucracy, they could precipitatethe investment and economic growth needed to expand the middle class, civilsociety and an independent bourgeoisie, while increasing regime legitimacy anddampening Islamist radicalism. This would create conditions similar to thosethat precipitated democratic transition in East Asia.
However, this scenario ofenhanced regime legitimacy and growing investment confidence is implausiblewithout a resolution of the national problem. That resolution depends onpolicies outside the control of the Middle East, namely a change in theintrusive and biased Middle East policies of the US hegemon. Democracy wouldstill only come about after a long-term evolution. A second pathway, ‘frombelow’, is also possible. Assuming that the liabilities of incumbent regimesremain unresolved, regime collapse might provide the conditions for anegotiated democratization pact cutting across the state–society divide.However, as the Iraq case suggests, if this scenario is delivered as aby-product of US intervention or pressure the outcome may well be anarchy, notdemocracy.