Why some Arabs ‘don’t want democracy’

Scholars of public opinion, including Arab Barometer researchers, offer ample evidence of support for democracy in the Arab world, notes Lindsay J. Benstead, an assistant professor of political science in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University.

Yet, in a recent article published in “Democratization,” I revisited these Arab Barometer data and found that support for democracy is not as widespread as received wisdom suggests, she writes for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog:

I found that 27 percent of citizens of six countries surveyed by the Arab Barometer believed that democracy is best but unsuitable for their country. The reasons citizens saw democracy as unsuitable stem not from religion or economic modernization – the focus of many studies of Arab public opinion – but from concerns about economic problems and political instability that could accompany free elections.

My research found that 60 percent of citizens strongly support democracy, as indicated by their response to two statements (See Table 3). This group feels that democracy is the best form of government and suitable for the respondents’ own country. Only 7 percent of the region’s citizens reject democracy on both these indicators. Yet, 27 percent regard democracy as the best form of government, but deem it unsuitable at home.

What accounts for these seemingly contradictory views? The answer, it turns out, stems in large part from the respondents’ expectations of what democracy might bring. When citizens worry about economic upheaval, violence or negative cultural ramifications as a result of free elections, they are more likely to reject democracy at home.

Activists and international actors need to redouble efforts to support the development of fledgling democratic institutions in Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere in order to improve stability and economic opportunities and build confidence that democracy really is best, Benstead concludes.


Libya’s civil war: polarized politics, fractured institutions

libya-free_1835951cMore than three years after the fall of strongman Muammar Qaddafi, Libya is in the midst of a bitter civil war rooted in a balance of weakness between the country’s political factions and armed groups, says Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

With a domestic landscape torn apart by competing claims to power and with interference from regional actors serving to entrench divides, restoring stability in Libya and building a unified security structure will be difficult if not impossible without broad-based political reconciliation, he writes in a new analysis.

Polarized Politics, Fractured Institutions

  • After Qaddafi, Libya’s security sector evolved into a hybrid arrangement marked by loose and imbalanced cooperation between locally organized, state-sponsored armed groups and national military and police.
  • The system broke down as political and security institutions became increasingly polarized along regional, communal, and ideological fault lines.
  • The country is now split between two warring camps: Operation Dignity, a coalition of eastern tribes, federalists, and disaffected military units; and Operation Dawn, an alliance of Islamist forces aligned with armed groups from Misrata. Each camp lays claim to governance and legitimacy, with its own parliament, army, and prime minister.
  • Regional backing of the two camps—with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates supporting Dignity and Qatar, Turkey, and Sudan backing Dawn—has deepened these divisions.
  • Outside efforts to train and equip Libya’s security institutions have failed because of this polarization. There is no effective command structure; trainees have reverted to regional loyalties or are on indefinite leave because there is no military structure for them to join.

Recommendations for Libya’s Leaders and Outside Supporters

  • Implement a ceasefire between Operations Dignity and Dawn and secure the withdrawal of forces taking part in those campaigns. The military units of these coalitions should move out of the major cities, and those that attacked civilians or civilian facilities should be disbanded.
  • Push for a transitional government that is inclusive of all factions. A face-saving power-sharing formula should encompass all politicians and include supporters of both Dignity and Dawn—if they renounce support for terrorist groups and attacks on civilian facilities.
  • Implement a regional pact against military interference in Libya’s affairs. Outside powers should stop equipping and funding armed groups and push their allies in Libya toward reconciliation. A September 2014 noninterference pact—including Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, and Turkey—is a promising start.
  • Support the development of a new Libyan security architecture, national army, and police force by harnessing local security initiatives. After a broad political pact is forged, the United States and its allies should focus on supporting a civilian-controlled defense architecture, municipality-based forces, and local disarmament and demobilization efforts.


Libya’s recovery short-lived as country risks falling apart

libya-free_1835951cA comeback by Libya’s oil industry may be short-lived as a confrontation between armed groups risks splitting the country three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, Reuters reports:

Oil production has risen to 650,000 barrels per day (bpd), five times the level two months ago, in a rare success for the economy at a time when armed groups and two parliaments fight for control of the North African country. ….The recent increase comes after a group of federalist rebels campaigning for regional autonomy implemented a deal to reopen major eastern ports such as Es Sider.

But Libya expert Dirk Vandewalle said federalist rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran might close these ports again, after a rival armed faction from the western city of Misrata took control of the capital Tripoli.

This group has pushed to reinstate Libya’s old General National Congress (GNC), refusing to recognize the new House of Representatives. Part of the Misrata forces are backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. In response, the federalists might opt to exert their power over oil exports and the economy as a whole.

“There is always the possibility that the federalists may take this opportunity to reassert themselves,” said Vandewalle, author of the book “History of Modern Libya”.

Secret air strikes are “an astounding and unusual action,” said William Lawrence of the Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, adding that the US would not have approved of the move.

Libya expert Lawrence agrees that Security Council talks need to take place, saying, “Libya needs to be stabilized and hasn’t been able to do so on its own.” Instead, Lawrence tells DW, a UN mission is needed to help the country establish reliable political institutions and an inclusive government: “We need a political dialogue that includes the Islamists but doesn’t let them take the lead.”

In the campaign to overthrow Qaddafi, many militias currently fighting each other were comrades-in-arms. But many have since become enemies on the battlefield, RFE/RL reports.

“Over time, the different groups have associated themselves with different political currents, primarily nationalists and Islamists, and that automatically pits one against the other,” says George Joffe, a Libya expert and lecturer at the University of Cambridge, who estimates that around 350 different militias are currently operating in Libya.

“Each of them has represented an autonomous power center and has been very unwilling to share power with other groups. On top of all that, there is the question of the regional and tribal identities of the groups involved.”

Three important themes that have surfaced in the most recent episode of Islamist/Non-Islamist conflict concern the bifurcation of Libya, foreign intervention and the proxy war that Libya has become, Jason Pack of Libya-analysis.com told Aljazeera’s Inside Story.

While much of the world’s attention has been focused on crises further east, the situation in Libya in the past few weeks has dissolved into the worst chaos since the 2011 war that ousted Moammar Gaddafi, the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor and Adam Taylor observe.

With reports that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are now getting involved, the conflict has turned into something of a proxy war for the Middle East’s big powers…..Put simply, the crisis could be framed as a contest between Islamist and Arab nationalists — a familiar trope throughout the Arab world.

But there are other factors at play, including regional rivalries, rump parliaments and outside agendas that don’t always align neatly, they add, providing a helpful guide to the key actors in the Libyan maelstrom….RTWT

As Islamists split with jihadists, Libya’s transition can be saved

libya-free_1835951cSplits between jihadists and less extreme Islamists are appearing in Benghazi, cradle of the Libyan uprising, as jihadists achieve success on the ground and the Islamists try to organise, AFP reports:

Islamists of good standing, seen as close to the Muslim Brotherhood, set the ball rolling on Saturday by announcing the formation of a shura or consultative council to “find solutions to the problems of the city” of Benghazi in eastern Libya.

“It is the start of a dispute between advocates of political Islam and jihadists,” said political analyst Saad Najm, who believes the key rift line concerns the principle of democracy.

“It is the end of the honeymoon between Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood tendency and the jihadists, who are against democracy and the civil state,” said political analyst Ezzedine al-Borussi.

“The Islamists who failed to win the parliamentary elections on June 25 will pay the price for their previous support of the jihadists who do not believe in democracy,” said another analyst, Nasser Assamin.

Libya’s situation is dire, but there still are steps that Obama and the international community should take, say two prominent analysts.

Currently, Libya’s political transition is proceeding along four disjointed tracks: the workings of a new parliament, efforts to select a new government, a constitution-making process and a U.N.-backed national dialogue that is intended to broker broad agreement on the founding principles of the Libyan state. These tracks are poorly coordinated and all, except for the national dialogue, have been the target of violence.

A new assistance program in Libya would require the active build-up of the military, with NATO supervision, Chibli Mallat and Duncan Pickard write for the Washington Post:

Libya must also reactivate its stalled processes of institution-building, working toward an inclusive constitution and a government that can persuade militia leaders to lay down their arms — or else pay a financial, political and military price. As in the other Middle Eastern countries free of dictators, Libyans seek a government that delivers security and holds a monopoly on violence. If he moves now to get them the support they need, perhaps Obama won’t be doomed to live with his regrets.

Chibli Mallat is chair of the group Right to Nonviolence. Duncan Pickard is a nonresident fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and was Libya country director for Democracy Reporting International.

Libya poll to proceed despite political chaos

LIBYAFLAGLibya’s second national election since the 2011 ouster of strongman Muammar Gaddafi will go ahead next week despite growing political chaos, organizational troubles and the prospect of a low turnout, Reuters reports (HT: FPI):

Dismissing doubts among foreign diplomats that Tripoli could arrange the vote in only a month, election commission head Emad Al-Sayeh told Reuters that preparations for polling on June 25 were coming along well and staff were being trained. ….He said there were “positive indications” that the vote would go ahead even in Benghazi, the eastern city where fighting takes place almost daily between forces of renegade Geenral Khalifa Haftar and Islamist militants.

A Western diplomat said the government was adamant the vote should go ahead and noted that voting for a constitutional committee in February went ahead in most areas.

“There will be challenges to open polling stations in some places in the east and south,” he said. “The bigger question would be what will happen after the election, whether tensions will ease.”

The General National Congress (GNC) assembly decided in February to step down after its initial mandate had ended, bowing to pressure from voters who blame political infighting for Libya’s bumpy transition to democracy.