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Friday, April 30, 2004


This is the 6th article in the series on the new shift in US foreign policy toward the Arab despots --- to pressure them in a variety of ways to liberalize and open up to democratic trends, the best way in the long run to combat radical Islamist fundamentalisms and their support for Islamo-fascist terrorism of the Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas sort. President Bush announced the new policy last fall, part of the wider ideological war on terrorism that was a major motive for toppling Saddamite Iraq; and he has subsequently criticized three traditional Arab allies of the US --- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Tunisia --- for their authoritarian practices. As the previous article noted, some of the 22 Arab dictatorships have more encouraging democratic prospects than others --- roughly a handful of them. What follows in the commentary is lots of data singling out those more favorably situated countries, based on a variety of measures.

One More Article To Come

A 7th and an 8th article will deal directly with Iraq's transforming prospects, much of which now hinge perilously on the ability of the US occupying forces to quell the existing terrorism and limited insurrection, either by the direct use of force or --- an encouraging sign in itself --- the use of local Iraqi forces as in Fallujah to take over at least a large share of responsibility for maintaining security. Will those Iraqi forces, led by a former Baathist general, do what the general and the local leaders in Fallujah promised to do: disarm the insurrectionists, isolate and turn over the terrorists, and maintain law and order?

Right now, nobody can say.

What is pretty clear by now --- a point we'll hammer home in the 7th article --- is that there aren't many Iraqis to develop a democratic Iraq: rather, religious and ethnic sects, plus tribal divisions within them: Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite. When we get around to clarifying this point, we'll draw on what we've learned about democratic transformation from the successful military interventions of the US and its NATO allies in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s . . . another area of the world, it was said, incorrigibly prone to ethnic hatred and warfare, unable to evolve in democratic ways. The Austro-Hungarians had learned that; the Ottomans just as long --- or so we were told; and then so had Yugoslav's leader, Milosevik and his demagogic government, after Marshall Tito's death in the 1980s.

The doomsters, as it turned out, were wrong about the Balkans. They may be wrong too about Iraq and some of the other Arab countries.

Part One:

An unusually stimulating list of indices for ranking the Arab countries' democratic prospects appeared last month in the admirable British weekly, The Economist. Its table is reproduced directly from that article, and all references should be strictly to it, not the buggy site.

Illuminating as The Economist's measures are, note right off that they have a drawback: they don't have some non-Arab control countries --- say, Bosnia in the former Yugoslavia or Bangladesh in South Asia or Indonesia in SE Asia, never mind Turkey in the Middle East itself --- as comparisons. The three latter countries are overwhelmingly Muslim, with tiny non-Muslim minorities; Bosnia is nearly 50% Muslim, with about 37% of the remaining population Serbs and 13% Croat. All four are electoral democracies; at least one of them, Turkey, is clearly near the fuzzy borderline between electoral democracies and more solid liberal ones. It's a strange, regrettable drawback.

What to do about it?

Fortunately, we can offset it to an extent . . . even though there's no direct way for the buggy prof to parallel the kinds of rankings that The Economist uses. No surprise. That admirable weekly isn't a scholarly journal that sets out explicitly its methodologies. Even so, there are other sources that more or less parallel The Economist rankings that we can draw on to compare the prospects of the Arab countries with those of the four Muslim electoral democracies just mentioned.

So, here for what it's worth --- transposing the rankings of the four countries just mentioned in terms that approximate, let us hope, The Economist's measures --- are how they would compare with the table above.



Untitled Document
  Country Political Rights Press Freedom Rule of Law (Corruption) Religious Freedom Women's Rights Economic Openness Total
Turkey 6 6 3 9 8 8 40
Indonesia 6 3 2 8 9 8 36
Bosnia 4 1 3 9 8 7 32
Bangladesh 4 4 3 7 4 5 28

The sources for this table, note, are a mixture taken from
Freedom House and World Audit. The latter organization is a composite that draws from Freedom House, Transparency International, and two or three other sites that deal with media freedom and so on.

The rule of law in this table is proxied by corruption, which is measured around the world each year by Transparency International through the use of survey techniques. For economic openness, the CIA World Factbook allows for a guess, nothing more. For women's rights, the same site has information on women's literacy and longevity compared to men's, and then you can make guesses for women's participation in politics based on whether there are women in prominent elected office.

Use the Ranking Scores or Data with Caution

Yes, use with caution for a couple of reasons.

First off, both tables here are going to involve guesswork, the buggy prof's probably even more so . . . especially with the need, given The Economist's scale from 1-10, to transpose Freedom House's and World Audit's measures. They rank countries democratic performance on an inverted scale of 1-10, with 1 the best score and 10 the worst. You'll notice that in the next section of this commentary, where Freedom House's overall ranking for 120 countries is set out. Meanwhile, if it helps to make sense of the two tables, consider that the top 20-25 industrial democracies in West Europe and the English-speaking world would each have a total score, on all six categories, somewhere in the high 50's or 60's.

Second, even without guesswork of this sort, the numerical scores in each category and the totals for the countries should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Despite the numerical measures from 1-10, these are what we call ordinal --- or ranked --- data. They are not strictly quantitative (interval) data. Meaning?

Well, this: if you look at the category for press freedom in The Economist's table, Morocco is given a score of "6" and Jordan "3". That does not mean that Morocco's press freedom is twice that of Jordan's. The fact is, we just don't know; all we can say is that a score of 6 is better than 5, 5 better than 4, 4 better than 3, and so on. If, to clarify further, one country scored a perfect "10" for press freedom --- say, Denmark if the measures were applied to them --- we couldn't say that the press was 10 times freer in Denmark than in Libya with its "1". It could be twice as great in freedom than Libya's --- with, say, a score "6" for Morocco 30% better than Libya's 1 --- or it could be a 100 times greater. There is just no way to be sure here.

Only when you have a interval scale --- with a 0 category and with a score of 6 twice as great as 3, or 9 three times greater than 3 --- could these scores be considered strict quantitative data. Another term for interval data, note, is cardinal data.


Part Two:

Freedom House is the best-known of the international organizations that has compiled a commendable data bank and organized it, with various rankings, for gauging a country's overall democratic ranking. Essentially, what Freedom House does is use a host of political, legal, social, and economic indicators, then uses them to place a country in three broad categories: free, partly free, and not free. In turn, a more accurate ranking of 120 countries in the world follows from Freedom House's sub-dividing the countries in each category into sub-categories.

The results for all 120 countries will be set out in a moment. For the time being, since we're still on the buggy home page, it seems advisable to set out Freedom House's rankings for the Arab countries. No direct comparison with The Economist's measures can be made from the table that follows. All the same, the results are generally in line with that weekly's overall rankings.

Untitled Document
Country Population Free or Not Electoral Democracy
Algeria 33,000,000 Partly Free Yes
Bahrain 670,000 Partly Free No
Egypt 71,000,000 Partly Free No
Iraq 24,000,000 Partly Free No
Jordan 5,100,000 Partly Free No
Kuwait 1,900,000 Partly Free No
Lebanon 2,600,000 Not Free No
Libya 5,300,000 Not Free No
Oman 2,800,000 Not Free No
Qatar 780,000 Not Free No
Saudi Arabia 25,000,000 Not Free No
Sudan 27,000,000 Not Free No
Syria 13,000,000 Not Free No
Tunisia 9,800,000 Not Free No
Yemen 18,300,000 Not Free No


Note that in both tables --- whether The Economist's or Freedom House's --- the buggy prof has moved Algeria considerably up the rankings, mainly because of the recent presidential election, judged as generally fair and competitive, by 150 international monitors . . . but also because of the increasing trends toward a freer media. Those trends include vigorous criticism of the government, itself still clearly controlled by the military junta and its clientele elites. (See the previous buggy article in this series for the Algerian case. As The Economist noted about the recent presidential election, it was the "cleanest election" any Arab country had ever held.)

Here now is Freedom House's ranking of the 120 countries in the world that it closely monitors.

Muslim and Arab Countries

You'll note that no majority Muslim country is ranked wholly free by Freedom House. The best records are compiled by Indonesia and Turkey, ranked in the top category for partly free countries: 3.0. The top two ranked Arab countries are Kuwait and Djibouti, each found in the 4.5 category. Small, fewer than 500,000 people on its territory, Djibouti is a former French colony located on the Red Sea: it has a markedly pro-western policy and allows US forces to operate from bases on its territory. Kuwait, with fewer than 1 million native Arabs --- plus a large work force from abroad --- is, of course, oil-rich and pro-American too.

Morocco, at the top of The Economist's rankings, is found in category 5.0 . . . which, in buggy terms, would put it on the border between the soft-authoritarian / electoral democratic categories as a political system. It is a large country, 30 million or so in population and has limited oil and gas reserves, not that it's a big exporter of them like the Persian Gulf states or Libya or even next-door Algeria. As for Algeria --- with about 32 million people --- it might now be found on this soft-authoritarian/ electoral democratic border too after its relatively free, if circumscribed election. Why circumscribed? As we noted earlier, any opposition candidate who would have won the recent presidential race would have obliged to form a government out of the dominant military-administrative elites that control Algerian life. It has fairly large oil and gas reserves, though again not ways that rival the oil-rich Gulf states or Libya. Both Algeria and Morocco maintain good relations with the US too.

Jordan, another fairly small Arab country of 5 million --- without oil --- completes the Freedom House list of partly free Arab states. No need to detail the pro-western orientation of the king's foreign policies. For that matter, Jordan and Egypt are the two Arab countries that have signed peace treaties with Israel and established diplomatic relations with Jerusalem.


NOTE: The argument is continued in the 7th and final article in this series on the democratic prospects of various countries, focusing more specifically on Iraq's near future.