‘Promise of the Arab Spring’?

“Two years after the outbreak of what has come to be known as the Arab Spring, the bloom is off the rose,” says Columbia University professor Sheri Berman:

Fledgling democracies in North Africa are struggling to move forward or even maintain control, government crackdowns in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere have kept liberalization at bay, and Syria is slipping ever deeper into a vicious civil war that threatens to ignite the Middle East. Instead of widespread elation about democracy finally coming to the region, one now hears pessimism about the many obstacles in the way, fear about what will happen next, and even open nostalgia for the old authoritarian order.

“The skepticism is as predictable as it is misguided,” she writes in Foreign Affairs. “Every surge of democratization over the last century — after World War I, after World War II, during the so called third wave in recent decades — has been followed by an undertow, accompanied by widespread questioning of the viability and even desirability of democratic governance in the areas in question.”

It’s often said that democratic transition are processes, not events, and Berman draws on western Europe’s protracted democratization to put current trends in the Arab world into comparative and historical perspective.

“The first error critics make is treating new democracies as blank slates, ignoring how much of their dynamics and fate are inherited rather than chosen,” she notes:

Turmoil, violence, and corruption are taken as evidence of the inherent dysfunctionality of democracy itself, or of the immaturity or irrationality of a particular population, rather than as a sign of the previous dictatorship’s pathologies. Because authoritarian regimes lack popular legitimacy, they often manipulate and deepen communal cleavages in order to divide potential opponents and generate support among favored groups. So when democratization occurs, the pent-up distrust and animosity often explode.

And because authoritarian regimes rule by command rather than consensus, they suppress dissent and block the creation of political and social institutions that allow for the regular, peaceful articulation and organization of popular demands. So citizens in new democracies often express their grievances in a volatile and disorganized way, through a dizzying array of parties, extremist rhetoric and behavior, and street protests and even battles.

“The best way to understand how stable, well-functioning democracies develop is to analyze the political trajectories that such countries have actually followed,” Berman wrote in a recent issue of the Journal of Democracy.

The vicissitudes of the Arab awakening may even revive the long-running debate between preconditionists and universalists:

The former believe that democracy generally emerges from a particular set of conditions and experiences, while the latter claim that it can come about in all sorts of ways and settings. During the 1950s and 1960s, the debate was dominated by the preconditionists, who stressed the importance of various national prerequisites and deep structural factors such as levels of socioeconomic development, degrees of socioeconomic equality and group polarization, patterns of land ownership or agricultural production, or the prevalence of certain beliefs or cultural traits. Where certain configurations of these factors were present, successful democratization was likely; where they were absent, it was unlikely. ….

In contrast, universalists contended that democracy could emerge through diverse paths and flourish in diverse circumstances. They believed, as Dankwart Rustow put it in 1970, that scholars should “abandon the quest for ‘functional requisites’” and be skeptical of the idea that a “minimal level of economic development” or particular types of societal structure are “necessary prerequisites for democracy.” The “third wave” of global democratization that began in 1974 gave a strong push to the universalist view, as the shift from authoritarian to democratic rule was made in dozens of countries—including many that preconditionists would not have considered ripe for such a move. As a result, scholarship began to focus less on the structures supposedly associated with successful democracy and more on the process of democratic transitions.

“In addition to blaming new democratic regimes for the sins of their authoritarian predecessors, critics also set absurdly high benchmarks for success, ones that lack any historical perspective,” Berman writes in Foreign Affairs:

They interpret post-transition violence, corruption, confusion, and incompetence as signs that particular countries (or even entire regions or religions) are not ready for democracy, as if normal democratic transitions lead smoothly and directly to stable liberal outcomes and countries that stumble along the way must have something wrong with them. In fact, stable liberal democracy usually emerges only at the end of long, often violent struggles, with many twists, turns, false starts, and detours.

These troubles, moreover, are not a bug but a feature — not signs of problems with democracy but evidence of the difficult, messy process of political development through which societies purge themselves of the vestiges of dictatorship and construct new and better democratic orders. Stable liberal democracy requires more than just a shift in political forms; it also involves eliminating the antidemocratic social, cultural, and economic legacies of the old regime. Such a process takes lots of time and effort, over multiple tries.

What does the experience of advanced democracies say about the Arab Spring? asks Berman, author of The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century:

 That the problems so evident in Egypt and other transitioning countries today are entirely normal and predictable, that they are primarily the fault of the old authoritarian regimes rather than new democratic actors, and that the demise of authoritarianism and the experimentation with democratic rule will almost certainly be seen in retrospect as major steps forward in these countries’ political development, even if things get worse before they eventually get better.

Berman is correct, says foreign policy analyst Max Boot.

“Anyone who reads her article….should gain a measure of patience and understanding for what it is currently happening in the Middle East,” he writes in Commentary. “We cannot expect overnight miracles, but that does not mean that it is possible to cling to the rule of discredited strongmen—any more than Europe today could possibly return to the rule of absolute monarchs.”


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‘Moderate’ Muslim Brotherhood? Morsi’s anti-Jewish slurs raise concerns over Egypt’s illiberal course

The exposure of virulent anti-Semitic and anti-Western sentiments by Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi is “raising questions about Mr. Morsi’s efforts to present himself as a force for moderation and stability,” The New York Times reports:

Nearly three years ago, [Morsi] delivered a speech urging Egyptians to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists. ….In video footage first broadcast Friday … Morsi addressed a rally in his hometown in the Nile Delta to denounce the Israeli blockade of Gaza. “We must never forget, brothers, to nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews,” Mr. Morsi declared. Egyptian children “must feed on hatred; hatred must continue,” he said. “The hatred must go on for God and as a form of worshiping him.”

“These bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs,” Morsi stated ina television interview from 2010 unearthed by the Middle East Media Research Institute. “They have been fanning the flames of civil strife wherever they were throughout their history. They are hostile by nature.”

The revelations will heighten the fears of many observers that Egypt’s transition is headed in a firmly illiberal direction.

Contrary to Western media and analysts’ “wishful thinking,” the Muslim Brothers are not democrats, writes Hani Sabra, the Eurasia Group’s lead analyst on the GCC, Egypt, and the Levant.

The Muslim Brotherhood — a secretive, rigorously disciplined and hierarchical organization — neither understands nor sees inherent value in democratic politics. Rather, the Muslim Brotherhood believes in a narrow majoritarianism and its leaders and supporters often confuse that with democracy. The Brotherhood believes that 50 percent + 1 equals a free hand to pursue its agenda. And its agenda is manifestly an illiberal one in which universal rights are subordinated to religious doctrine.

“The manner in which Egypt’s new constitution was conceived, written, and adopted offers the clearest example of the Brotherhood’s authoritarian and majoritarian tendencies,” she writes for Foreign Policy, noting that the group is also turning a blind eye to rising sectarian attacks on Egyptian Christians:

Now with Islamists politically ascendant, hardline influential Muslim clerics have ratcheted up their sectarian invective against Christians. They are emboldened by the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood and their Salafi extremist junior partners believe in the primacy of Islamic principles over equal citizenship.

Despite the Muslim Brotherhood’s insistence that they are committed to democracy, media freedom and political pluralism, “there are disturbing signs that they may not stick to those promises.”

With the Islamist group’s moderate credentials being called into question, it “must respond by re-affirming its democratic bona fides not just in rhetoric but in actual practice,” writes Eid Mohamed, a Brookings Doha Center analyst:

“At this critical stage, it is important that the organization de-emphasize its ideological and organizational advantage and recognize that in a fragile process of democratization, even the perception of authoritarianism – regardless of a popular mandate – can be very damaging indeed,” he contends, especially at a time of increasingly acute tensions between secular liberals and Islamists:

As the two camps become further polarized, an “us versus them” mentality is becoming so ingrained that it has become a serious threat to the social fabric and political life of post-Mubarak Egypt…..

Both Islamists and liberals should take into consideration, however, that there are new actors such as labor unions, employers’ associations, revolutionary groups and other civil society groups which gained a sense of empowerment after the revolution. Often, it is these groups that are most able to cross ideological lines and truly represent social interests. They constitute the real revolution in Egyptian society, and provide an example that politicians would do well to follow.

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Global Authoritarianism and the Arab Spring: Challenges for U.S. Diplomacy

The Arab uprisings of December 2011 and beyond coincided with the efforts of an ad hoc group of global authoritarian states—led by China, Russia, and Iran—to take advantage of these momentous events to enhance their diplomatic and strategic leverage in the Middle East and, in so doing, to defend their own authoritarian agendas at home and abroad.

How have these efforts affected the architecture of Middle East security and the interests of the United States and its regional allies? How, in turn, have the leading of new emerging democracies leveraged the efforts to global authoritarians to advance their own agendas, thus posing additional challenges for the United States?

To explore these and other crucial questions, Brumberg and Heydemann will present the main outlines of a joint paper from the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center and the United States Institute of Peace.

Global Authoritarianism and the Arab Spring:New Challenges for U.S. Diplomacy

Daniel Brumberg Senior Adviser, Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention, United States Institute of Peace; and Co-Director, Democracy and Governance Studies, Georgetown University

Steven Heydemann Senior Adviser, Middle East Initiatives, United States Institute of Peace

Commentator: Tamara Cofman Wittes Director and Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution

Moderator: Haleh Esfandiari Director, Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson Center

Tuesday, January 29, 2013 12:00 – 1:30 p.m.* 5th floor conference room Woodrow Wilson Center * Lunch will be served. This event will be the first in a series of five papers and presentations on “The Changing Security Architecture in the Middle East.” _____________________________________________________________ Please RSVP to mep@wilsoncenter.org or online

Seating is limited. Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis. A photo ID is required for entry. The Woodrow Wilson Center is located in the Ronald Reagan Building (Federal Triangle stop on Blue/Orange Line). www.wilsoncenter.org/directions

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Can technology stop poll destabilizing Kenya’s ‘anchor state’?

Kenya’s forthcoming election seems likely to unleash a wave of tribal violence and destabilize East Africa’s “anchor state” and a significant strategic partner to international security efforts in the region.

Many observers are concerned that the poll could elect two politicians – Uhuru Kenyatta, a leading presidential candidate, and William Ruto,  his running mate – indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity arising from their role in post-election tribal clashes six years ago, reports suggest:

In 2007, more than 1,100 people were killed in Kenya after the results of the presidential election were announced. Mwai Kibaki was sworn in as president, but peace brokers later negotiated a coalition government that installed his rival, Raila Odinga, as prime minister. As Kibaki prepares to step down after two terms in office, Odinga will face Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s founding president and one of the country’s richest men, in the March polls.

The immediate fear is that violence similar to that which exploded after the 2007 polls will reoccur. Down the line, should Kenyatta win and subsequently refuse to cooperate with the ICC, Kenya risks international condemnation and targeted sanctions, according to diplomats. These could hit the economy, which has been forecast to grow at 5 percent this year if the polls are peaceful, but at 3 percent, according to the World Bank, if violence erupts.

“Any breakdown of the electoral process and political order in Kenya would … have major economic consequences in the region and jeopardize other US objectives,” according to Joel Barkan, a Kenya expert, author of a new report for the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Two major US foreign policy goals in the region – preventing Somalia from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and nurturing peace between Sudan and South Sudan – could be compromised,” writes Barkan, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy:

As the “anchor state” in East Africa, Kenya is a significant strategic partner to the United States. A prolonged political and economic crisis in Kenya would have profound domestic and transnational implications, and could threaten two major U.S. foreign policy initiatives in the region: preventing efforts by al-Shabaab to create a safe haven in Somalia and supporting the fragile peace agreement between Sudan and South Sudan.

Technology will play a “pivotal role” in the elections, just as it did in the 2007 polls, observers suggest.

But in contrast to the hate that it helped to disseminate a little over five years ago after disputed elections, fuelling an orgy of violence that left more than 1,000 dead and a half a million displaced, technology is now generating hope, Al Jazeera reports:

“Technology will be at the core of the March 4 general election, as it will be one of the most-watched elections in the world in view of what happened in the aftermath of the 2007 poll,” says Ory Okolloh, Google’s policy and government relations manager for sub-Saharan Africa:

Google has launched a web portal, Kenya Elections Hub, where voters and journalists can track news and trends. Another crowdsourcing platform, Uchaguzi [above], is enabling citizens with access to SMS, Twitter, email, or Facebook to report incidents of illegal activities, hate speech and poll violence.

The March elections (and potential run-off in April) are “arguably the most important and complex since the country’s return to multiparty politics two decades ago,” says Barkan.

The US and other external actors “may have limited leverage over Kenya’s domestic politics, but they are not without options that would significantly improve the prospects for acceptable elections and help avert a major crisis,” he writes:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Nairobi in August 2012 was a positive first step. It should now be complemented by the following initiatives:

  • Bring together like-minded states to push the Kenyan government to make adequate preparations for credible elections. The message from Washington and its partners should be that further delays sow doubts about the grand coalition government’s commitment to full implementation of the National Accord and 2010 constitution. These communications should include a joint or complementary message or messages from President Obama, Secretary-General Ban, and other influential world leaders who recognize the centrality of successful elections for Kenya’s transition to democracy.
  • Provide unequivocal support for the continued diplomatic efforts of the African Union’s Panel of Eminent Personalities in Kenya by encouraging the AU to expand and reauthorize the panel through May 2013. ….
  • Rapidly provide any assistance that the IEBC may require to administer credible elections. The assistance could include helping the IEBC with voter education initiatives and with recruiting and training the 120,000 temporary poll workers potentially needed. It could also come in the form of providing technical expertise or funding and logistical support for the commission’s procurement and deployment of needed supplies, such as ballots and ballot boxes. …..
  • Extend the current program by USAID OTI to strengthen civil society efforts to prevent election-related violence in conflict-prone areas, and integrate the new programs by the Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict Stabilization Operations with those of OTI so that the two agencies do not work at cross-purposes.
  • Encourage the United Kingdom and other countries with greater police-training expertise and experience than the United States to assist the Kenya police to strengthen and perhaps expand its numbers so it is not overwhelmed by the forthcoming elections as it was in 2007.
  • Authorize, fund, and initiate a robust and coordinated international electoral observation mission to monitor preparations for the elections, the conduct of the elections, and the reporting of the results. The mission, in coordination with efforts by domestic observers, should include parallel vote tabulation, or PVT, to increase the likelihood of an honest and timely reporting of results. ……..
  • Join with like-minded governments, particularly the United Kingdom, to impose visa bans and asset freezes on members of Kenya’s political class who incite violence and engage in demagogic behavior.
  • The United States and others may have limited leverage over Kenya’s domestic politics, but they are not without options that would significantly improve the prospects for acceptable elections and help avert a major crisis. However, with little more than two months before the elections, Washington must intensify its engagement or forsake its opportunity to make a difference.


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Call Ukraine’s bluff: highlight democratic regression

The west should not set aside its values to embrace a Ukraine that looks more likely to become Europe’s next Belarus rather than its next Poland.

Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s president, is “flirting” with joining Russia’s proposed customs union “as part of an effort to persuade the west to ignore Ukraine’s regression on democracy,” says a leading analyst.

“The customs union represents a combined gross domestic product of about $2.1tn, which is dwarfed by the EU’s combined economy of $17.6tn…A pivot east, therefore, would pose serious domestic political risks for Mr Yanukovich,” Steven Pifer, a former US envoy to Kyiv, writes in today’s FT:

Kiev’s expressions of interest in the customs union aim to raise concern in the west that it is somehow “losing” Ukraine to Russia. The president and others in the elite appear to have an inflated sense of Ukraine’s significance to Europe and the US, believing their nation figures so importantly in a geopolitical tug of war between the west and Russia that, in the end, the west will set aside its democracy concerns and accept Ukraine as it is.

Kyiv and Brussels signed an association agreement in 2011 to boost Ukraine’s economic integration with Europe, but it also has significant political implications.

“At the government level, the Agreement provides for an ongoing dialogue between the EU and Ukraine on democracy, rule of law and good governance,” notes the EU’s Ukraine office:

The Agreement would also enable Ukrainian citizens to more effectively oversee the functions of government institutions, law enforcement agencies, courts and civil servants in order to hold them accountable. The deal would assist the fight against corruption and ensure mechanisms are in place to better protect the property rights of Ukrainian citizens.

“But the agreement has languished for more than a year, as concerns in Brussels and EU capitals grew over the decline of democracy that has taken place on Mr Yanukovich’s watch,” writes Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution:

This has included the selective prosecution of former government leaders, such as Yulia Tymoshenko (above), a former prime minister, and election processes that have been criticized by both foreign and domestic observers. Several EU states have indicated they would block the agreement unless Kiev improves its record on democracy.

The west should not set aside its values to embrace a Ukraine that looks more likely to become Europe’s next Belarus rather than its next Poland. ..The EU and US should instead do everything to crystallize a clear choice in Mr Yanukovich’s mind: he can live up to the democratic standards that he has, at least in word, accepted and improve his relations with Europe and the west, or he can become more isolated.


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