No doubt the most difficult task in the months ahead for Western leaders responding to changes in the Arab world will be to stick to their guns on democracy — that is, to accord elected governments and their leaders all the respect due to democratically chosen heads of state. This is because the elected governments will almost invariably be Islamist, hostile to Israel, and suspicious of the United States.
But really, what else could we expect? “Democratic” does not simply equate to pro-Western. If you tell people: “We have oppressed proponents of your historical religion for decades to create dictatorships for the sake of better relations with the West and Israel, and now we want you to choose your own government”, what else would people do than repudiate the pattern of the old dictatorships? And wouldn’t that repudiation more likely take the form of voting for well known and established parties that stood against the dictatorships, rather than for new parties with young faces that stand for such vague things as “secularism and liberalism?”
So let us start from the fact that an Islamist majority was always logically to be expected from free elections in Arab countries, and show no disappointment on that score. The crucial issue regarding the new regimes in Tunisia and Egypt is not that they are Islamist, but how will they act? How will they act toward other non-Islamist parties, and non-Islamic groups in society? How oppressive will they be toward women? How effective will they be on economic policy and science and technology? How will they manage popular hostility toward Israel? These are the issues that will determine the risks and success of these regimes.
So what can we realistically expect? I remain optimistic–for now. Egypt’s leaders, whether military or Islamist, have no interest in a war with Israel. Egypt’s people desperately need jobs and investment, which a war will put at risk. So provided Israel provides some modest concessions or assistance to Palestinians, so that Islamist governments can point to something positive, the Israel/Arab relationship should not shift too harshly.
Regarding domestic affairs, the interesting division to watch will be within the Islamist ranks, between the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist parties. Westerners tend to assume that all Islamist parties will stand together on policy, and that the strong showing of the Salafists will pull all Islamist groups to a more strict and extreme view.
I disagree — that was not the dynamic I observed when I was in Cairo earlier this year. The Muslim Brotherhood leaders, anticipating coming to power, were striving mightily to disassociate themselves from the Salafists. The Brotherhood wanted to present itself as open, democratic, cosmopolitan, ready to work with others on the world stage and to respect human rights within Egypt. They viewed the Salafists as putting all of that at risk, as wanting to drag Egypt back into a pre-modern past and isolate itself.
So my guess is that we will not see a Muslim Brotherhood-Salafist coalition ruling Egypt (or elsewhere). Rather, we will see either either the Brotherhood allying itself with one of the secular parties to burnish its bonafides with the West, and bringing the Salafists into government only to a limited degree. Ideally, for the Brotherhood, the secular parties would balance the Salafists, leaving the Brotherhood to call the shots and guide the country. That would be much preferable for them to simply allying with the Salafists, which would create anxiety and suspicion from the West and risk a massive counter-reaction from secular and military forces within Egypt. The Brotherhood has seen the power of Tahrir square, and they are well aware they cannot ignore or wholly oppose the forces that appeared there. I expect the Ennahda party in Tunisia to take the same, moderate, approach – the better to stay in power and wield it.
So let us be patient and see how things unfold. It is not time to panic about the rise of Islamist parties — yet.
We are pleased to welcome the American Political Science Association’s Comparative Democratization Section as the second section to take up our offer to provide a selection of articles from their newsletter free to the public here at The Monkey Cage. (See here for past posting of articles from Section newsletters.) Over the next three days we will post articles from the current issue of the Comparative Democratization Section Newsletter; if you like these, you should consider joining the section so you can have access to the full content of the newsletter!
As these articles are longer than a typical Monkey Cage post, we will put first few paragraphs on the main page and then have a click through for the rest of the article. We will also make the article available in .pdf format. Our first article is by Ellen Lust of, Yale University[i]. The full version of the article can be downloaded here
Events that shook the Arab world since January 2011—variously termed the Arab Awakening (al-sahwah al-arabiyya), Arab Spring (al-rabyi’ al-arabi), Arab Revolution (a-thawra al-arabiyya), or the uprising (intifada)—are unprecedented, unparalleled, and unexpected.[ii] Never before have people across the Arab world taken to the streets in such numbers, demanding the end to deep-seated, autocratic regimes. Never before has the region experienced such transformation driven from within . Whatever the immediate outcomes of these movements, citizens have witnessed the almost unthinkable become reality, in turn expanding their horizons and increasing demands. And never before have scholars and close observers of the Middle East had to confront their own failure to predict that such momentous, widespread change would be realized at dizzying speed.[iii]
The Arab awakening thus raises once again a question at the heart of the study of comparative democratization: Why now? Why has the Arab world, which appeared so resistant to change, seen such widespread unrest and transformation? Specialists on Africa, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union engaged in the same soul-searching after similar transformations shook those regions. That this question animates discussions today, as it did then, reminds us that we have far to go before we understand the conditions promoting such significant ruptures in seemingly stable authoritarian regimes.
In this essay, I suggest the answer lies in shifting our focus from a search for immediate causal factors to a greater recognition of micro- and meso-level transitions—that is, gradual, interrelated changes in political, economic and social spheres that, like slowly moving tectonic plates, eventually create the conditions conducive to earth-shattering events. The point is not simply to recognize the incrementalism of change or unintended consequences of social, economic and political reforms that have often been implemented in the region, but to urge us to pay greater attention to the “shifting web of conditions that define the terrain on which new institutions and actors arise, old actors activate or change their claims, and all pursue iterative contests.”[iv] Attention to these factors does not pinpoint precisely the emergence of uprisings across the Arab world, but it certainly makes them less surprising.
The essay begins by exploring how gradual, interrelated changes in political, economic, and social spheres contributed to the current uprisings. Given space constraints, it cannot provide an exhaustive discussion of the dynamics at play or delineate in detail important differences in the on-going struggles across the region. Rather, by sketching the broad outlines of these changes, it demonstrates how focusing on interrelated transitions can contribute to a better understanding of the current uprisings and, as discussed in the conclusion, of comparative democratization more generally.
In response to my request for research on the effect of the death of dictators on the future prospects of the country in question, Michael Miller of the Australian National University sent along the following comments:
You pose some very interesting and timely questions related to Qaddafi’s violent ouster and what this implies for Libya’s democratic prospects. I have some research here directly on this question.
The gist is this: On average, the violent removal of an autocrat (whether by coup, rebellion, assassination, threat, or foreign assistance—it doesn’t seem to make much difference) makes it three times more likely that a country will democratize in the immediate future. About half of democratic transitions occur within five years of a violent ouster, and another quarter after a peaceful turnover between autocrats. Hence, there’s a big association between an autocratic leader leaving office and autocracy ending. I argue the main reason is that violence indicates and contributes to regime weakness. The periods of chaos following violence, when elites are divided and citizens are engaged, provide the best possible openings for democratic actors to make their demands.
But here’s the rub: That opening only matters if there exist democrats in the country and they have sufficient support and power to win over the next wave of opportunistic autocrats. For this reason, I find that the aftermath of violence is when socioeconomic conditions matter the most for predicting democratization. In particular, average income predicts
democratization if and only if there’s been a recent violent turnover. In other words, violence shakes up the system, but what you get out of it is largely a product of structure.
What does this say for Libya’s democratic prospects? If we only consider economic development, they’re quite good. Libya is wealthier (~$13,000/capita) and more urbanized than most people think, even accounting for oil wealth. This simple model suggests about a 59% likelihood of democratization within five years. However, if we add some political characteristics (like the current Polity score and the regional level of democracy), the picture is much more pessimistic, around 10%. Again, this would be lower still without Qaddafi’s death. Obviously, other factors, like international support and the democratic trajectories of Tunisia and Egypt, will also play a role.
The central point remains that violent leader removal does increase the likelihood of democratization. For Libya’s citizens, this is their best chance in decades to achieve self-rule.
The NY Times is reporting that Muammar Qaddafi is dead. While there will undoubtedly be many short term questions to answer (how was he killed? will this be the end of fighting in Libya?), it raises an interesting big picture theoretical question: does the death of the leader of a non-democratic regime increase the likelihood of a successful transition to democracy? Or, to lower the standard a bit, does the death of a leader of a non-democratic regime increase the chance of a country avoiding a prolonged armed insurgency or even a civil war in the future? I’m sure there must be academic research on this topic, and invite people with knowledge of this literature to contribute to the discussion in the comments section or, if you have conducted such research yourself, feel free to email me directly about a guest post. In the meantime, let me at least sketch out two sides of this argument.
On the “it matters a lot” side, one would have to expect that of all the people who could possibly unify opposition to a new regime – be it democratic or non-democratic – the ex-leader would have to be included in the discussion, if only for his or her ability to serve as a convenient focal point for opposition coordination. Thus we might expect that the death of Qaddafi, simply by virtue of creating uncertainty regarding around whom an opposition to Libya’s new regime should unify, should weaken the opposition compared to what it could have been. From a legal standpoint, I suppose that as long as a leader who had once been recognized internationally as the leader of a particular country is still alive and claiming that the new regime is illegitimate, it might be a way to give cover to other countries that for whatever reason do not want to recognize the new authorities in that country. We might also think that an outgoing leader may have built up a network of personal contacts over the years that could provide financial and military support to an opposition movement into which new opposition leaders might not have the possibility to tap.
On the “it probably doesn’t matter all that much” side, the elephant in the room is Iraq, where Saddam Hussein was captured in 2003 and executed in 2006, but where opposition to the regime hardly ceased following his capture and his death. More generally, one could argue that leaders ultimately are expendable, and that if opposition is strong enough (e.g., rooted in inter-ethnic conflict like Sunni vs. Shia in Iraq or sustained by huge economic incentives such as control of oil fields or diamond mines), then conflict can persist long beyond the life of any one individual. Indeed, one might even suppose that in some circumstances an old leader would become “damaged goods”, and replacing the leader could even increase the likelihood that an opposition can attract support.
Thoughts? Comments? Relevant research?
From the perspective of someone who knows little about Libya but has spent a lot of time studying transitions from communism (both to democracy and autocracy) in East-Central Europe and former Soviet Union, here are what I think are three important things to keep an eye on in Libya in the coming months:
1) Outsiders vs. Insiders: How much influence will members of the “Old Regime” be allowed to wield in the new Libya? This question pertains to both economic and political actors. In both cases, there is a very delicate trade-off that needs to be negotiated. On the one hand, there will be demands for justice against those who helped maintain Qadaffi in power (and in many cases benefitted financially from doing so) for four plus decades, and a sincere concern that if the same people stay in power and in control of the economy after the transition as were in power before the transition, it will undermine Libyans’ faith in democracy, thus increasing the appeal of non-democratic actors (Islamists?). On the other hand, incorportating at least some members of the “Old Regime” into a post-Qadaffi Libya offers the tantalizing appeal of a smoother transition, both due to the real knowledge and insight these actors have about how to run a state and economic enterprizes and the fact that this will decrease the pool of potential pro-Qadaffi insurgents who could seek to violently disrupt the new regime. A particularly important question is what happens to members of Qadaffi’s security forces, with Iraq again offering lessons about the dangers of simply sending soldiers from the old regime on their way.* To be clear, there is not a “correct” answer to this trade-off, but how Libya negotiates it will likely have a major impact on how the country develops in the future. For more on this topic of outsiders vs. insiders, I would recommend John Gould’s new book The Politics of Privatization.
2) Watch the Immediate Security Situation: This is more of a lesson from Iraq than from the post-communist world, but we now know that the consequences of chaos from a security standpoint can be long-lasting. The received wisdom on Libya is that Qadaffi largely destroyed all elements of civil socieity. Combined with a high degree of uncertainty about what is happening to armaments collected by the Qaddafi regime (see here, here, and here), the possibility for rampanent violence is real. One of the stories told about the Balkan conflicts was that communism helped surpress some long-standing conflicts between Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs, and the collapse of communism eventually allowed these grievances to be aired and to turn violent. While there has been a great deal of push back against that theory, there is no reason to be complacent and simply assume there are not scores to settle in Libya after four decades of authoritarian rule. Either way, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where a successful democratic transition is made more likely by sustained violence like we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
3) Election Rules Matter: At some point in the near future, some group of people in Libya will gather to determine a set of rules for elections. While again there is no silver bullet for the perfect set of electoral rules, the point I want to make here is that these rules will have very serious consequences. Moreover, if patterns from Central Europe are repeated, important political actors will be aware of these consequences and will try to shape these rules in their interest. Indeed, in some ways this will be the first real “democratic political challenge” faced by the new Libya: trying to avoid letting the crafting of electoral rules get hijacked by the interests of the few at the expense of what is best for the many. For more on the ability of interested actors to influence the crafting of electoral rules in the post-communist cases, see these insightful (ungated) articles by Ken Benoit and Jacqueline Hayden and Benoit and John W. Schiemann.
All signs point to the West and NATO trying to step back quickly from involvement in Libya, and the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan suggest this might be a good move indeed. However, to the extent that there is still the opportunity for Western countries to exert some influence over developments in Libya – and one has to assume there will continue to be contacts between the NATO powers and the new Libya regime – I would suggest that these three areas are important ones for the West to keep an eye on.
*From the perspective of the question of what happens to the Qadaffi security forces, the fact that there is renewed fighting in the capital today paradoxically might not be as bad a development as it seems. Last night, the big story seemed to be how the expected fights with Qadaffi loyalists in Tripoli were not materializing, suggesting that Qadaffi forces might be trying to melt away, i.e., take their weapons and quietly leave Tripoli. The problem with this scenario is the question of how you engage the existing security forces becomes much harder if you can not find them. And while it is possible that this would just lead to these people exiting the security game and trying to quietly make a new life for themselves in a post-Qadaffi Libya, experiences in Iraq show that the more likely scenario is that these are exactly the kind of people – armed, with military experience, and loyal to the previous regime – who could form the basis of an armed insurgency. Thus the fact that Qadaffi loyalists have not completely disappeared yet may have some positive long-term benefits, or, at the very least, may make certain negative scenarios slightly less likely to unfold.
UPDATE: A slightly better written (but with a less appropriate title) version of this piece is now cross-posted at The New Republic