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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Final Version: DEMOCRATIC PROSPECTS AND THE MIDDLE EAST: #5 of an 9 Article Series

This is the fifth article in the ongoing series, started about three weeks ago --- interrupted now and then by some other buggy commentaries --- about the prospects of democracy in Iraq and the Arab world . . . particularly in the light of the new Bush administration's initiative to push for liberalizing changes in the Arab world. Announced with fanfare last autumn and just about to emerge through the bureaucratic pipeline into a clear doctrine to be presented at the G-8 Summit meeting in June, that new initiative sparked off this series . . . along with buggy comments then and in subsequent articles why democratic changes in the 22 Arab countries and elsewhere in Islam are in the US national interest. Remember here, the war on terrorism is only partly military. It is partly also a matter of intelligence, police work, and improved homeland security.

At bottom, though, it remains an ideological struggle to combat and isolate radical Islamist fundamentalists and their terrorist followers, by above all promoting change in the failed autocratic states: democratic, cultural, and economic. As it happens, the current article is now finished. As it also happens, a sixth and final article will be needed to deepen the analysis of Iraq's democratic prospects and those of other Arab countries.


The Crux Issue

The question just posed is pivotal to all our inquiries in this series on the new Bush initiative to promote liberalizing democratic changes in the Arab world --- some 22 countries, with a total of 300 million people.

As late as April 2003, all were autocratic and relied ultimately for their survival on the secret police. In strict political terms, they differed mainly in the extent to which the use of coercion was at the forefront of political and social life or, alternatively, was more latent and kept in the background. Not, as you'll see, a trivial distinction. Those countries where dictatorial regimes relied less on force and had some underlying sources of popular support and legitimacy --- all of them monarchical, like the small Gulf States or Jordan or Morocco: all of them, come to that, carefully limiting Islamist intrusions into political life --- have also created a variety of better democratic prospects: a somewhat freer media, more broad-based political parties, better treatment of women. And though all the parliaments in these and the other Arab states remain fairly weak, little more than rubber-stamp institutions, they do differ in the extent to which criticisms of the government can be voiced.

To use the terminology that was set out in the table on different kinds of political systems --- democratic and non-democratic --- the more promising Arab depotisms are soft authoritarian in nature as opposed to hard-line ones like Saudi Arabia or Syria or the Sudan or totalitarian like Baathist Iraq under Saddam. That table, you'll eventually see, is found later in this article, used to illustrate some points once more. More to the point, in the next and final article in the series, a variety of quantitative indices will rank the Arab countries in their democratic prospects: developments like the level of literary, GDP, magnitude of corruption, freedom of the media etc.


Diverse Prospects

Interestingly, as you'll also see, these more promising Arab states --- only a handful --- have been recently joined by Algeria . . . especially as the brutal civil war with fanatical Islamist terrorists, a decade long, has wound down and relatively free elections were just held for the presidency. Since last April, post-Saddamite Iraq --- for all the recent spate of violence, essentially centered in the Fallujah area (plus the wider Sunni triangle) and Moqtada Sadr's radical Shia group in Najaf (at most, a few hundred gunmen as supporters) --- seems to have joined this promising group as well. If the current violent challenges there are suppressed, then --- what with all the other encouraging changes under way in Iraq --- there's a good chance that a consensual Iraqi political system with liberalizing promise will be elected in popular elections next January.

A big if? Sure.

We'll return to all their democratic prospects, Iraq's included --- setting out some rankings on a variety of indices that amount to democratic pre-requisites --- in a minute or two. For the time being, fix your attention on the Arab exception, globally speaking, and the implications for the war on terrorism.



The First Three Waves

Over the last two centuries, democratic developments across countries have unfolded in clustered waves. Samuel Huntington, known to buggy visitors for his pioneering views on the clash of civilizations, has also been a pioneer on these waves. He identified three over these last two centuries or so. More accurately, we can identify four.

(1) Starting with the US revolution of 1776, followed about a decade later by the French revolution --- far more radical in its ideology --- the first wave lasted for about a half century, leading to warfare throughout Europe and Latin America and ending with the monarchical defeat in Europe of Napoleonic France and later the Latin American struggles for independence in the 1820s. Out of all this turmoil, only the US emerged as a solidly institutionalized democracy, but the legacies of those decades continued, ideologically and otherwise --- often with violence --- to shape Europe and Latin America for decades. [The British themselves, drawing a lesson, opted by the mid-19th century for gradual national independence with democratic legacies in the English-speaking colonies like Canada and Australia, a policy later extended to the rest of the empire, often with limited violent struggle for freedom, after 1945.]
(2) The second democratic wave emerged at the end of WWI, under the impetus of Woodrow Wilson's espousal of democracy in the former imperial states, broken apart, in Germany, East Europe, and the Balkans. Almost all these new states --- the Weimar Republic, Poland, Yugoslavia, and so on, never mind Russia --- collapsed into dictatorships of various sorts in the two decades that followed, along with the breakdown of democratic systems in Italy, Spain, and Portugal. So did Turkey, being transformed economically into a secular, modernizing Muslim country by Ataturk, the great nationalist leader.

(3) The third wave --- played down by Huntington given the growth and spread of Communism in East Europe after WWII and in China and Indochina, plus the breakdown into military or civilian dictatorships in Latin America or post-colonial Africa and the Middle East --- occurred after 1945, starting with the democratic transformation of West Germany and Italy and Japan, plus the societal and economic changes under US auspices elsewhere in South Korea and Taiwan.

The long-term successes here were not wisely expected anywhere in the US or Britain or France, but successes they have been. Thumpingly; with enduring stability. Then, too, there's the biggest and most encouraging democratic development has been in post-colonial India, ever since the British withdrew in 1947 and the Indian sub-continent divided among blood-splattered violence into Pakistan and India. With a billion people, India alone represents about a sixth of the world's population. Japan, Germany, and Italy add up to 260 million people and are among the seven richest industrial countries world-wide.

The Impact of the International Distribution of Power. Wave Four Too

In all three of the earlier waves, it took major triumphant powers in warfare --- the new US and France in the late 18th century, the US and Britain after WWI, and the US and Britain after WWII --- to have a major impact on the spread of democratic ideas and policies. Their impact followed the defeat or collapse of old-guard autocratic empires or the defeat in major hegemonic wars of explicitly anti-democratic powers like Imperial and later Nazi Germany, militarist Japan, and fascist Italy.

(4) The same is true of the fourth wave starting in the 1980s, which coincided more or less with the abortive efforts of a rapidly declining Soviet Union to transform itself under Gorbachev in the middle of that decade . . . the struggle uncoiling political and nationalist forces he, a moderate Communist reformer, couldn't control.

(i) The result has been the sudden breakdown and disappearance of the Soviet Union, the disappearance of Communist systems in most of the 15 former member Republics, and the democratic thrusts all over East Europe and in Russia itself. The later violent breakdown of Yugoslavia led to five new states, all of them electoral democracies --- even Serbia and Bosnia, where peacekeeping forces from abroad remain.

(ii) In Pacific Asia, Taiwan and South Korea were transformed in the 1990s into increasingly solid liberal democracies --- still hounded by corruption, but with a rule of law clearly under way --- along with other democratic transitions in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and even recently Indonesia. Even a dozen or so African states emerged as electoral democracies during that decade.

(iii) Then there's Latin America. As the cold war wound to a close in the 1980s, the militarist and authoritarian regimes that had prevailed almost everywhere in the 1960s and 1970s either broke down or were transformed by agreement among competing political elites. In Central America, the agreements here followed years of violent civil war, swept up in the larger ideological struggles of the waning cold war.

Freedom House Rankings

The following table, taken from Freedom House --- which uses a variety of cross-checking indices to gauge democratic development --- shows that the number of free or partly free countries has increased dramatically in the 4th wave that is still unfolding in the wake of the cold war and now in the war on terrorism. [Keep in mind that Freedom House further sub-divides these categories into how well they actually do on the concrete measures. For instance, fully free countries are distributed across 4 groups --- 1.0, 1.5, 2.0, 2.5 --- where the lower the score, the better the democratic performance. Partly free countries --- say, either electoral democracies or soft authoritarian ones, with some development of a free media and some due process in legal protection of individual and civil rights --- are divided into five groups, from 3.0 - 5.5, with not free countries divided into three more groups, ending up with 7.0.]

A Brief Digression: Democratic Developments in Latin America

Since the early 1990s, Latin America has been marked everywhere by the emergence of electoral democratic systems of a fair and competitive sort, save for Communist Cuba. Even neighboring Mexico had its first honest democratic elections in 2000. True, persistent corruption and a huge underground economy underscore just how hard it is in almost all of Latin America to generate major legal and cultural changes of a fully liberal constitutional sort. [Chile, an admirable democratic country with clear, effective limits on corruption and tax evasion is the big exception. See
the NY Times, April 28, 2004]. No less true, though, a vigorous free media flourishes in every democratic country, energetic human rights groups monitor major affronts to civil and other liberties, and women's rights have improved in almost all the countries too. Come to that, the military seems constitutionally tamed almost everywhere too.

The biggest problems by far remain economic and cultural, the two going hand-in-hand.

In particular, whether Latin American countries can find ways to develop economically in sustained, broad-based manner that will help overcome the huge legacies of economic and social inequality --- class- and ethnic-based alike --- still remains uncertain. Side-by-side with this issue flares the need for reforms in cultural attitudes and social behavior that make tax evasion a national sport and accept corruption and nepotism, along with widespread social mistrust of other groups --- ethnic or class-based --- as inevitable, nothing to be done about them. The outcome of further democratic development largely hinges on successful changes on both counts. These unfortunate cultural and behavioral legacies run deep in Latin American history. Hundreds of years old, they go back to the kind of people who conquered the indigneous peoples starting in the 1490s . . . and to the politics, culture, and economic systems --- Spanish and Portuguese Catholicism and militarism, plus large plantation and raching agriculture --- that the Conquistadors implanted throughout Latin America.

Note the differences especially in land ownership with North America. In both Canada and the US, the huge territories were divided largely into small family farms; the result was widespread property ownership from the outset of their colonial histories. Eventually, the destruction of plantation slavery in the US south reinforced these tendendies. Not so in Latin America. There, thanks to the plantation system in almost all of Latin America, or large ranches in Argentina and Uruguay and southern Brazil, land ownership from the start was heavily concentrated in a few hands; and over the centuries, it hardly has changed.



Most of these new democracies, it's true, are what we've called electoral democracies: they have fairly free competitive elections, with different parties competing for political office in legislatures and the executive branch, but they're deficient --- often noticeably --- on the key categories that constitute solid, effective liberal democracies. In particular, the rule-of-law is not solidly institutionalized, and the same is true of transparency and accountability for all office-holders --- whether political or bureaucratic or civilian or military. Corruption and nepotism, among other other abuses of power, continue to flourish in almost all of them.

The following table, now making its third appearance in this series, helps bring out the differences between electoral democracies and solidly effective liberal ones:

Untitled Document
Solid Tested Democracy Transitional Democracy Soft Authoritarianism Hard Authoritarianism Quasi- or Post- Totalitarianism Totalitarianism
Old, Established     US, West Europe, Japan , Israel Australia have been democracies for decades. Costa Rica too.   New Democracies, India Spanning the two groups (old or new), given its authoritarian rule in the mid-1970s Chile , Argentina , Brazil , Uruguay , Philippines , South Korea , Taiwan are newer, fairly solid democracies that have had several elections, changes of opposition, and have weathered big economic or security challenges.   Electoral Democracies:     Varying Liberal Constitutional Prospects Russia , East Europe, most of Latin America, Thailand , A tiny group of African states Earlier: Weimar Republic and Japan im the 1920s.  Mexico Many in Latin America and some in Asia , eg. Thailand , may become solid democracies.  Others like Russia are more a question-mark.             Gulf States , Much of SE Asia , African States   Indonesia moves into the transitional column after its forthcoming election this year.                               Syria , Some former USSR republics, Some African states, Sudan , Saudi Arabia   Syria's Baathist regime , though brutal, lacked the total hold over society and the economy that Saddamite Iraq had. And its brutality compared to Saddam's was limited. Secret police pervasive.   Most Arab states probably span the soft-hard authoritarian grouping.               Post-Stalin Russia , Post-Mao China :     Probably Shiite Iran (hard to classify: official Shia ideology and administration of the Sharia, but an elected wing that contests the power and secret police rule of the hard-line Mullahs. Probably it could overlap with soft-authoritarianism) China actually looks more like a mix of Post-Totalitarianism and Soft Authoritarianism: its dilemma is how to maintain a CP power monopoly and become fully modern and advanced.           Maoism, Nazism, Stalinism, Pol Pot, Taliban Afghanistan , Saddamite Iraq                                    
Traits Systems have been tested; and at least two or more times, opposition has taken power peacefully. A rule of law has emerged or is emerging.   Note : There may be higher quality and lower quality democracies here  (eg, Italy with its extensive corruption and clientelism vs. Scandinavia). In Latin America, only Chile does well in limiting corruption. Traits These are systems in transition from authoritarian or quasi-authoritarian regimes. Several dozen countries have emerged into this category the last 25 years or so, not least after the cold war. Some will become solid democracies; others not; yet others will revert to authoritarianism. In many of these countries --- not all, mind you --- there are dominant coalitions, usually a ruling party, that limit the scope of electoral opposition and power-sharing. In many others, power oscillates between competing but fairly corrupt and ineffectual elites, and changes in office-holders don't lead to more effective governmental policies. Traits Though these sys-stems restrict democratic competition for office and restrict or repress basic civic and political liberties, they may enjoy different degrees of legitimacy. Coercion is then limited for the most part. Still, most rule depends on the secret police and various forms of bribing or crushing potential opponents. A rule of law is absent or barely exists. No legal political opposition is recognized in any real sense either. Traits Lacking legitimacy, these systems use a high degree of threat and coercion to maintain power (though efforts may be made, not least in foreign policy, to gain legitimacy: e.g. standing up to America or the West or for true Islam). Civil society is largely barren. Any claims to a rule of law are a cruel joke. Traits Single party dictatorship and an official ideology prevail, but widespread use of terror is limited; and ideology is itself gradually diluted and ritualistic. Little or no social mobilization of the masses for big ideological causes. State-controlled capitalism usually prevails, though as in China today limited free markets can emerge. Traits Single party monopoly, official ideology, constant social mobilization, extensive terror, usually a charismatic leader Totally administered societies, with no free markets or civil society (no autonomous groups, voluntary associations or professional groups or trade unions or free churches permitted) A widespread use of terror and scapegoated internal and external enemies are pervasive.


Further Clarification

The number of electoral democracies is open to controversy. The key minimal requirement has to be that the elections for high-office, legislative and executive, are competitive and fair. Those scholars who use elastic measures on these two counts can find as many as 90 or so countries that do OK; others, insisting on a widespread sense of fairness in the population and --- if need be --- international monitoring, find that the number could be as much as halved. Aside from this controversy, the prospects of further liberal democratic development are uncertain for large numbers of them. Probably 20 or 30 might have the capacity to develop further; some of them might even emerge in a decade or two, barring unforeseen changes, as more solidly institutionalized democratic systems across-the-boards. Others will regress; they will become authoritarian, often all-but-in-name. Some will just stagnate where they are.

A lot of democratic development depends, it should be noted, on the ability of electoral democratic regimes to deliver sustained economic growth. And almost always a pre-requisite of that isn't just major institutional reforms --- legal, financial, business organization, and political in nature --- let alone just proper market-oriented policies. Important as all these are, there also have to be changes in the social norms and beliefs --- in short, national and group culture --- that discourage corruption and nepotism, offset social mistrust and cynicism, and promote a hard-work ethos and entrepreneurial initiative among the well-to-do and educated, rewarding economic and social advancement thanks to accomplishment, not just mutual back-scratching in clientele networks of crony- and statist-capitalisms among rentier-elites.

Where sustained economic development isn't delivered, as in Latin America for large numbers of people, the public can sour on democracy itself. That may not lead to regression, let alone authoritarianism. All the same, without solid-based support among a large majority for further democratic development, it's hard to believe that agreements among competing elites --- or alternatively, a variant of democratic rule here, namely an overwhelming coalition of elites --- can by themselves lead to democratic transition of a noticeably liberal sort.

[Sidebar Clarification In a recent UN-sponsored opinion survey of 18,000 respondents across Latin America found, as evidence of these last observations, around 55% said they'd prefer an authoritarian government if it could improve on existing economic conditions. 56% claimed that democracy was less important than economic development itself. Yet of 70 national elections in all the Latin American countries save Cuba between 1990 and 2002, only 13 were marked by various criticisms of vote-rigging or other irregularities. See the L.A. Times, April 22, 2004.]


By Contrast, Solid and Effective Liberal Democracies, Have
These Additional Attributes:

These latter points need to be refined. As we noted in an earlier buggy article in this series, liberal democracies of a vigorously effective nature are marked by

1. An energetic rule of law has to exist --- with everyone, even presidents and parliamentarians and generals and judges and rich people, treated fairly and equitably in the same manner. Simultaneously, the civil liberties of all citizens have to be effectively protected, above all by a well-anchored system of due process and transparency based on impartial law. And --- one measure of all this --- corruption and nepotism in public life have to be energetically curbed and effectively punished.

2. Governmental laws and regulations have to be generally consented to voluntarily, as legitimate and morally obligating, by the vast majority of the citizenry --- rather than obeyed out of self-interest or fear of being punished by the courts and police for evasions. One clear measure here: spontaneous compliance with the laws and policies even by those who opposed their passage through democratic means.

3. The government needs to be able to ensure that it can tax effectively in a constitutionally designated way, with the ability to raise revenue for its basic services and other policies that are decided upon by proper legal and constitutional processes. Some sense of equity needs to exist here. Massive tax evasion is a sign that the citizenry doesn't feel a moral obligation to be law-abiding.

4. A liberal democracy also requires a vigorous civil society: a free media, free trade unions, independent self-regulating professions like law and medicine, a politically independent system of higher education, cause groups galore, free churches, business and financial associations, interest groups, solidly rooted political parties at the grass roots level, and the like.

5. The higher-quality liberal democracies --- Northern Europe and the English-speaking democracies, say --- are marked by a wide radius of trust among the citizenry, which allows a great deal of spontaneous cooperation for common ends. When, by contrast, mistrust and cynicism flourish among wide swathes of the population, they are clear signs of a narrow or fragmented radius of trust. In lower-quality democracies --- or transitional ones, never mind authoritarian countries --- serious cleavages in their socieites may divide the population along the lines of ethnic or tribal gaps, family clans, social classes, and possibly regions. Worse, frequently, mutual suspicions and fears may congeal along such cleavages and create not just strong mistrust but outright hostility among the groups in any country.

In such social circumstances, little spontaneous compliance with formal laws and regulations will exist. Corruption and tax evasion will likely be rife well. Then, too, the prospects of eruptive violence --- whether low key like limited terrorism, at other times more brutal terrorism, or flare-ups of ethnic or class-based warfare --- may hover nearby. If democratic elections do exist, they may help contain the violence --- no small matter --- and at times lead eventually to reforms that encourage stronger constitutional development and a more intensely shared national identity that offset group suspicions and mistrust. Even so, to put it mildly, the obstacles blocking success here are legion.



Democratic Development Offsets Bin-Ladenism in the Arab World

If you look at the support across Arab and Muslim countries for radical fundamentalist movements and Islamist terrorist leaders --- for instance, bin Laden --- you find a close connection between declining support and democratic development. As the recent Pew Survey of Global Attitudes showed, a large majority or plurality in the Muslim countries surveyed except in democratic and secular Turkey admired bin Laden.

There is other survey evidence too. A secret Saudi poll, administered shortly after 9/11 and leaked to the western media, found that 95% of Saudi men between 25 and 41 years of age admired bin Laden. That was the fall of 2001. A few months later, a Gallup Poll taken in 9 Arab countries showed that 60% of those queried denied that Muslims had even been involved in the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C. In September 2002 --- a good year after 9/11 --- a Gallup poll in Egypt found that a majority of the people continued to deny that Muslims had carried out the terrorist attacks.

Look at the Pew survey results again. Note how support for bin Laden is lower in Jordan than in Pakistan, and lower still in Morocco; in Turkey, a solid electoral democracy making big strides in improving its rule of law and respect for human rights and civil liberties, it's virtually non-existent. No surprise. As we'll see, Morocco --- a moderate despotism --- has better democratic prospects than almost all the other Arab countries. Too bad, of course, that the Pew survey didn't probe more Arab countries. Still, there is now other important evidence why democratic development is essential in the ideological struggle against bin Ladenism and other militant Islamist fundamentalisms: Algeria's surprisingly free election earlier this month for its presidency.


The Encouraging Algerian Election: Also Pro-American Support

It's actually the second election for the presidency there in the last five years. In the first election in 1999, the war against fanatical Islamist terrorism was still raging with full force, the total casualties on both sides around 150 200,000 . . . this in a country of around 33 million. That election wasn't fair and competitive. No surprise. In such circumstances of brutal civil war, it couldn't be expected. This time, with 150 international monitors present, the election was deemed fair and competitive by all save die-hard Islamists, with Islamist political parties identified with the terrorist movement --- now virtually destroyed --- prohibited from running their own candidates for the presidency. The existing president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was re-elected, the outcome itself not unexpected. What did prove a surprise was the size of his vote, around 85%. No one thinks that Algeria has suddenly blossomed into a full-fledged democracy. Still, if you were trying to locate it in one of the six categories of political rule set out in our table, you'd now have to rank it at a minimum on the borderline between soft-authoritarianism and electoral democracy.

What keeps it there, on the fuzzy border, is that the Islamists --- however understandably in the Algerian context --- couldn't compete fully or freely in the election.

How big the Islamist attraction is among the population can't be accurately gauged, the Algerian military-elite that still dominates the parliament, cabinet, and overall government prohibiting opinion polls from probing its numbers. '' 'There remains an Islamist reservoir in the heart of this society that could be reactivated,'' says Hamida Ayachi, an Algerian journalist who has written extensively about the movement. As is the case in so many Arab countries, nearly three-quarters of Algeria's population is under the age of 30 and half of those below the age of 25 are unemployed. The Islamist movement easily influences them.' " [The fully quoted text here is from the New York Times article, April 14, 2004, available, alas, only at a cost.]

Still, it was the freest election in Algerian election. No less important, a vigorous free press exists and openly and energetically criticizes governmental policies and abuses. At the same time, a popular-based anti-fraud movement has also emerged and operates openly. All this is impressive.


Pro-American Sentiment Spreading in North Africa

No less impressive is the degree of pro-American sentiment that observers encounter in Algerian public life these days. We can generalize here. Evidently, as with post-Taliban Afghanistan and clerical Iran, so in Algeria: either being governed by fanatical Islamist radicals or waging extensive warfare against them increases public revulsion for Islamism and, equally important, pro-American sentiment. In Algeria, the government and media alike have called for close relations with the US, economic and diplomatic, and a recent savvy American scholar who visited the country was surprised at the degree of friendly interest shown in the US by young Algerians. See Walter Russell Mead, "Surprise, A Middle East Nation Admires the US and Embraces Democracy",
L.A. Times, April 25, 2004.

The diplomatic consequences for the US, especially in the war on terrorism, are telling here.

In particular, if you survey North Africa at present, you find encouraging developments almost everywhere. Algeria and Morocco are now among the small handful of brightest prospects for democratic development in the Arab world . . . along with Jordan, a couple of the small Gulf States, and (we hope) post-Saddamite Iraq. All of these countries, plus more authoritarian Tunisia and Egypt, are actively fighting Islamist terrorisms. All these countries, needless to add, are allies of the US.

No less important in North Africa, Colonel Khadaffi's Libya is undergoing a clear opening to the West: it has renounced its WMD programs, accepted international inspections, and is joining, apparently, the anti-terrorist camp. Will Libya itself liberalize? Not likely --- at any rate, as long as Khadaffi, a mercurial dictator whose sanity has to be questioned, is in power. Even so, the startling changes in Libya the last few months testify to a big US diplomatic success, and it's important to reward Khadaffi for them.


Note: What with the length of this article, it seems advisable to bring its argument to a well-needed close. A sixth and final article will probe in greater detail the democratic prospects of various Arab countries, Iraq's included.