The Arab Spring one year on: Switzerland on the Sahara and Norway on the Nile have yet to materialize.
“I remind all media that they have to be accurate; we are not celebrating the first anniversary of the revolution; we are reviving the revolution in its first anniversary,” tweeted well-known writer Ayman El-Sayyad.
Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians thronged Cairo's Tahrir Square Wednesday morning, renewing the atmosphere of mass protests witnessed in the country a year ago, Ahram online reported.
“Down, down with military rule,” they chanted.
Though the house of Mubarak was no more, the shadow of his legacy still lives on in the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took power after Mubarak’s resignation, pro-democracy protesters say.
But materialize they shall. Thomas Friedman says so. So does The Council on Foreign Relations. So does Hillary Clinton--and she's ready to put your money where her mouth is:
Three weeks ago, the State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative sent Congress what's known as a "congressional notification," requesting permission to shift $29 million in funds from other programs in the region. State wants to shift $20 million to democracy promotion efforts in Tunisia and around the region. Another $7 million would go supporting rule of law and political development programs in the Middle East. $1 million would go to youth councils in Yemen.
Spending our hard-earned dollars on 'democracy promotion' has always had its fans. Traditionally, U.S. policy has been to push democracy where it serves her strategic interests, and to crush it where it does not. The Middle East, your blinking gas gauge reminds you, falls under door #2. But throngs pouring into the streets over a young Arab who had immolated himself in despair could not be ignored, and the about-face was total: Out with dear friends Mubarak, Gaddafi, and Ben Ali; in with...
But democracy, we soon forget, has existed in the Middle East for generations. In the same way it's existed in Liberia, and in Mexico, and in the Philippines. A trend such as blue jeans can be exported anywhere in the world and look more or less the same.
Idem English liberal democracy?
A governing system that evolved slowly, organically, over centuries, born of the particular temperament and desires and abilities of a certain people: Can it be yanked from a container-ship on the other side of the world and slipped on intact like a pair of trousers?
Again, our memories vis-a-vis the Middle East are short. 'Democracy promotion' by Europeans has a long pedigree here. As Ablo Baaklini et al. recount, once the Ottomans were toppled in WWI, the British and French swooped in to shepherd these newly minted 'states' to Democracy. Parliaments were established, political parties invented, elections held. The 1920s and 1930s under European mandate, o great paradox, may have been the most 'democratic' years these countries knew.
As Baaklini puts it,
Had circumstances been different, these parliaments might have developed their institutional capacities and asserted their political influence, thus contributing to the emergence of democratic political systems in the region. Shortly after a number of [Muslim*] Arab countries became independent, however, their parliamentary systems were replaced by authoritarian, one-party regimes.
[*The qualification matters. Lebanon, the only country even resembling a functioning liberal democracy in the Arab world, also has the distinction of the being the only Arab nation to be majority Christian at independence.]
In other words, once the Europeans skedaddled off in the 1950s and Arab Muslims were left to their own devices, they created (as many peoples have) their own special brand of democracy. Not quite Cuban-style elections, not quite Putin-style, still a long way from Swiss-style.
Should this worry the West?
. . .
Logic would suppose that the more a given people resembles the English, the closer their version of 'liberal English democracy' should be to the original. Dutch democracy functions quite like its English cousin, for example. Italian democracy a bit less so. Indian democracy much less so. And Arab Muslims?
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) remains the most repressive region in the world—16 out of 20 countries in the region are categorised as authoritarian [most repressive category out of four].The Arab Spring will soon put an end to all this, pundits tell us, and thus American taxpayers should pour millions of dollars into 'democracy promotion' efforts. Results guaranteed--you can bank on it.
Or can you.
To believe that, one must believe that the authoritarian governments ruling over Arab Muslim lands these last fifty years were in no way a product of their own people, culture, mores, or desires. Soviet tanks rolling down the streets of Prague may help explain forty years of Czech Communism; what comparable outside force can explain fifty years of authoritarianism among Arab Muslims? UFOs did not drop these leaders here. They are home-grown products, just as England's prime ministers or Switzerland's federal counselors.
And lest we forget, many of today's Arab presidential regimes were originally the product of revolts against hereditary heads-of-state seen as foreign-imposed (Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Iraq, Yemen). But surely it's the West's fault these governments have stayed in place so long? A guarantee of pesky Islamists kept on a leash + access to black gold? Perhaps. The West was happy to deal with these secular strongmen, no doubt, but how to explain the authoritarianism in Arab countries with regimes long hostile to the West (Syria, Iraq pre-2003, Libya pre-2004) ?
As we have seen before, observers have long remarked upon the ways in which Muslim Arabs do not resemble the English. Could these be potential bumps on the road to their Liberal Democratic hopes?
Shame-honor ranking effectively prohibits the development of wider, more socialized types of human relationship. Status considerations of the kind are impervious to Western concepts of contractual relationships.
Pierre Bourdieu, the French social anthropologist, has pointed out that no dishonor attaches to such primary transactions as selling short weight, deceiving anyone about quality, quantity or kind of goods, cheating at gambling, and bearing false witness. The doer of these things is merely quicker off the mark than the next fellow; owing him nothing, he is not to be blamed for taking what he can. (1)
Philip Carl Salzman:
In the Middle East, all honor goes to the victor; the vanquished is dishonored. There is no honor in "playing fairly," "doing your best," or "upholding the rules." [...] Applied to state governance, this spirit advises monopoly of power, ruthless suppression of opponents, and accumulation of benefits. In short, it is a recipe for despotism, for tyranny. (2)
Novell de Atkine:
Middle Eastern rulers routinely rely on balance-of-power techniques to maintain their authority. They use competing organizations, duplicate agencies, and coercive structures dependent upon the ruler's whim. This makes building any form of personal power base difficult, if not impossible, and keeps the leadership apprehensive and off-balance, never secure in its careers or social position. The same applies within the military; a powerful chairman of the joint chiefs is inconceivable. (3) [all emphasis ours]
But such observations are just that. Is there any way to quantify them?
One could peruse the 2010 Democracy Index in its entirety (Muslim Arab states in red, Middle Eastern states which are non-Arab or non-majority Muslim in orange):
One could consider the 2010 Freedom House Index for the region 'Middle East and North Africa.'
One could study the World Values Survey to compare their level of civic engagement with that of other regions:
Or one can look at the scores from the GLOBE study on In-Group Collectivism and Societal Collectivism (1992-1995 data wave):
One could even browse a selection of the findings from the Pew Research Center's 2010 global opinion survey:
[We have presented the thoughts of an Arab Muslim country, an Arab country which was majority-Christian at independence (the only), and a Muslim country which is not Arab.]
[Number = percentage of those surveyed who agree.]
Islam's role in politics is positive:
Egypt 85 Lebanon 58 Turkey 38
In the struggle between modernizers and fundamentalists, I identify more with the latter:
Egypt 59 Lebanon 15 Turkey 11
I favor gender segregation in the workplace:
Egypt 54 Lebanon 13 Turkey 11
I believe adulterers should be stoned:
Egypt 82 Lebanon 23 Turkey 16
I believe those who leave Islam deserve the death penalty:
Egypt 84 Lebanon 6 Turkey 5
Democracy is prefereble to any other kind of government:
Egypt 59 Lebanon 81 Turkey 76
Whether English-style liberal democracy can arrive in the Arab Muslim world is debatable. It is by no means agreed upon whether it should arrive there. Either way, the above would seem to indicate that these populations interact with their own members in a way that is fundamentally differently than the English. Pryce-Jones:
Western vocabularies of appeals to public opinion and national rights of course have no foundation in a power-challenging society. [...] The spoils for the successful careerist are irresistible. 'Public welfare' is a concept without meaningful application; there is no common good. Generosity is suspect as a ploy for advantage. Idealism and sincerity are penalized. Self-sacrifice is akin to lunacy or martyrdom. (1)
Fertile ground for democracy promotion?
Our next task shall be to dive into the history, and, following Emmanuel Todd, the family structure of these peoples in order to search for clues as to the durability of their special traits. Will such differences, as Francis Fukuyama predicted, be swept away by the inevitable tide of history? Or are their roots even deeper than the most skeptical of observers could imagine? To be continued...
(1) Pryce-Jones, David, A Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs, New York: Harper and Row, 1989.
(2) Salzman, Philip Carl, Culture and Conflict in the Middle East, Amherst: Humanity Books, 2008.
(3) De Atkine, Norvell B., 'Why Arabs Lose Wars,' Middle East Quarterly, Dec. 1999, Vol. 6, No. 2.
Previously: Democracy Promotion and the Jasmine Revolution