Arab Spring outcomes ‘on balance more than disappointing’

larryDiamondThe results of the Arab Spring “on balance are more than disappointing,” says Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he directs the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL).

It has been more than three years since the first protest movements started in late 2011. …Do you think this is a completely disappointing process when looking back to the early euphoria people experienced? asks Mehmet Hecan.

No, it’s not completely disappointing because at least one of the several countries that had revolutionary movements and deposed authoritarian regimes is now moving towards democracy, namely Tunisia. This is a very significant development. I think it’s now very likely to lead to the first clear democratic system in the Arab world, at a minimum, since the failure of parliamentary democracy in Lebanon in the mid-1970s.

We should notice that meanwhile in Yemen, which is one of the other four Arab countries that deposed an autocrat, there has been a pre-constitution-making process and a national dialogue conference that at least reached some degree of agreement on the broad parameters of a new constitutional structure and the need of sharing power and revenue between northern and southern Yemen. It still has a very long way to go and could implode in a variety of bad ways, but you know, at least the process is still on track.

Elsewhere it is very grim. Egypt has emerged in an extreme authoritarian direction with a narrative and set of dynamics that are viciously repressive, and a fascist overtone of complete intolerance of criticism of the opposition, glorification of xenophobic nationalism, and worshipping of a hero-savior in the form of general El-Sisi. It is very alarming. Libya has virtually disintegrated as a state since it is in the control of different militias and warlords. Bahrain has become again a repressive authoritarian regime that has completely suffocated popular aspirations for freedom and accountability. 

The outcomes on balance are more than disappointing, but there is one emerging success story and another possibility of a partial success story. Much of the history of the Arab world remains to be written. This is a process that is going to evolve and unfold over an extended period of time, probably over the next 20 years. 

Diamond is a founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy and a senior consultant to the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy.


The Arab 1848?

The Arab upheaval has been the cause of profound bewilderment in the developed world and among policy makers, not least in Washington. Great enthusiasm for the Arab Spring was quickly replaced by confusion and concern regarding Islamic democracy or an Islamist Winter, depending on one’s perspective, analyst Azar Gat writes for The National Interest.

The European revolutions of 1848, the ‘Spring of Nations’, with their great hopes and dashed dreams, have often been cited as an analog. But what can the European experience of modernization and regime change teach us about the contemporary Arab world?

What makes nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Europe and the current Middle East similar is their relative position on the road to modernization. According to the most authoritative estimates, real GDP per capita in non-oil producing Arab countries is in the same range as mid- to late-nineteenth-century Europe. Urbanization rates in Egypt and Syria are, respectively, just below and above 50 percent, a level crossed by the United Kingdom around 1850 and by Germany around 1900. Illiteracy in the major Arab countries still hovers between 20 to 30 percent, again in the same range as in mid-nineteenth century Europe….

While these major indicators are of fundamental significance, differences remain that should also be factored in. Whereas nineteenth-century Europe and the West were the world’s pioneers and world leaders in modernization, today’s Arab countries are among the world’s strugglers, with only Africa trailing behind. Because of this, the Arab world enjoys many of the fruits of modernization as imports from outside—in communications, household appliances, computers, medicine and the like. This also means that the Arab world is susceptible to pressures from the hegemonic developed world – most notably economic, partly military, and, more ambivalently, intellectual – even if the efficacy of such pressures is inherently limited. Finally, there are all the differences of culture and historical traditions, for, as we know, the process of modernization, while most powerful and deeply transformative, is far from being linear.

In comparison and analysis, certain key concepts serve as prisms, Gat suggests: democracy, liberalism, development, nationalism, religion, and stability.


The call for democracy has reigned supreme in the enthusiasm that surrounded the Arab Spring and the fall of the Old Regimes throughout much of the Middle East. It remains the strong expectation of Western opinion and the official demand by Western governments, most notably that of the United States. In today’s West, democracy is perceived as the ultimate ideal and political norm, unconditioned by extraneous circumstances. But in reality, rather than democracy being an abstract, timeless idea waiting to be recognized and adopted by right-minded people, its successful implementation has always depended on and closely correlated with a number of developmental factors variably embedded in the process of modernization.


Liberals everywhere in nineteenth-century Europe were deeply concerned that democracy would jeopardize liberal rights, such as respect for human life, free speech, freedom of religion, toleration for a diversity of opinion and identity, and, above all, the right to property. They feared that the masses would place little value on these hard-won sociopolitical norms, or else would be swayed by non-liberal creeds, whether traditionalist-conservative or revolutionary. ….

The Muslim Brotherhood’s reign in Egypt was too brief to offer conclusive evidence, but the omens were not very good. The Brotherhood in power were relatively restrained, for the reasons mentioned. Nonetheless, they were ideologically and politically intolerant towards the large Christian minority, the Copts, and failed to respond to widespread incidences of violence against them. ….

Western opinion and policy makers wish to see democracy installed and maintained, while also wishing that liberal values and norms be protected. They naturally tend to regard democracy and liberalism as inseparable, as the two have become in liberal democracies during the twentieth century. However, when the two sets of cherished values and norms conflict, which of them is to be given precedent? This question has long been absent from the script of Western and liberal democratic discourse. Moreover, liberal parliamentary regimes that were not democratic but later grew to become fully so were very much the norm in nineteenth-century Europe. But their opposite, the recently posited concept of ‘illiberal democracy’, has rarely if ever materialized anywhere. The reason for this is that liberal values seem to be essential for a deep respect for a democratic system, as opposed to an opportunistic or instrumental attitude towards it. Illiberal democracies do not only infringe on liberal values and norms, but are also ever in danger of turning undemocratic too.


In some ways, political and social Islam resembles political and social Catholicism in nineteenth century Europe. Catholicism organized itself politically in reaction against the forces of secularism, modernity, liberalism and democracy, preached nonworldly virtue and social justice, and practiced social work for the poor. The most significant political party that exemplified the movement was the Catholic Center Party (Zentrum), which was consolidated to defend Catholic rights in Protestant-dominated unified Germany after 1871. ….

Can political Islam travel the same road and be transformed into the Arab and Muslim equivalent of the Zentrum and Christian Democrats? …..

Such a development might take time and require a preliminary semiauthoritarian phase, as it did in Turkey. The apocalyptic violent streak that Islamism has developed in recent decades is a major obstacle. So also is Islamic universalism and its challenge to the Arab states. Whereas militant violence was practically absent in nineteenth century political Catholicism (though not in other, revolutionary creeds), Catholic universalism was a much stronger reality. It nonetheless receded before the European nation-states, which were far more deeply rooted than their supposed counterparts in the Middle East.

Azar Gat is currently the Ezer Weizman Professor of National Security and was twice Chair of the Department of Political Science at Tel Aviv University.


Arab Spring in Russia’s backyard?

ukraineEuromaidanFor Russians watching state television news over the past several weeks, the message about the political turmoil in Ukraine is clear: The anti-government protests are a U.S. plot, Michael Bohm writes for the Moscow Times:

Take, for example, this Jan. 22 evening news broadcast on Channel One. In a section called ­”experts’ opinion,” the following explanations for the protests were presented:

• State Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Zheleznyak from United Russia: “Western civil and ­political groups are openly and secretly financing fascists in Ukraine.”

• Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov: “The U.S. secretary of state is dictating how to control the [Ukrainian] power ministries.”

• Duma Deputy Mikhail Yemelyanov from A Just Russia: “Western powers are supporting violence among the protesters.”

In addition, Rossia 1 state television anchor Dmitry Kiselyov said on the Jan. 23 “Poyedinok” program  that the U.S. is sending huge amounts of money to the opposition via diplomatic mail. (Kiselyov did not explain, however, how he discovered the money if it was sealed in diplomatic pouches.)

Journalist Maxim Shevchenko, speaking on Ekho Moskvy radio, even named the amount the U.S. has purportedly doled out to the opposition so far — $5 billion. He did not name his source of information, however.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskysaid on Rossia 1, “The Americans have come to Ukraine just like the ­Nazis came to Poland with one goal: to try to conquer Russia.” Political analyst ­Veronika Krasheninnokova, infamous for her strong anti-Americanism, said on ­Rossia 1 that “The U.S. has opened its Western front in Ukraine, which is the latest stage in the U.S. offensive against Russia.”

“The Kremlin’s propaganda campaign has largely succeeded in distorting Russians’ view of the Ukrainian protests,” Bohm adds:

According to a Levada Center survey taken in late January, 44 percent of Russians — the largest percentage — believe that Western influences are the main reason behind the Ukrainian protests. (Only a small percentage of Russians believe the protests are inked to Yanukovych’s corruption or lawlessness.)


Second Arab Awakening – a battle for pluralism

Despite the early promise of the Arab Spring, one transition after another has struggled or failed to produce governments that can respond to citizens’ longing for freedom and opportunity, says a leading analyst.

The fragility of the once-promising Arab transitions clearly shows the urgency of beginning the painstaking process of constructing an Arab world defined by pluralism and tolerance. Only then can what I call The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism be realized, the Carnegie Endowment’s Marwan Muasher writes:

If it is to succeed where the first Arab awakening failed, this Second Arab Awakening needs to be an assertion of universal values: democracy, pluralism, human rights. These are not ideals that can be imposed upon a region from outside, but they can be encouraged to grow. This requires patience and an accurate understanding of both the actual conditions and the kinds of actions that are likely to be effective. Only when societies and their elected leaders truly embrace tolerance, diversity, the peaceful rotation of power, and inclusive economic growth will the promise of a new Arab world be realized.

Given the grim news coming out of the region today, some will regard such arguments as naïve. But do not mistake the grim early skirmishes for the outcome, Muasher contends:

The battle of ideas has finally started to unfold in the contemporary Arab world and is far from ended. The region will go through a period of turmoil in which exclusionist forces will attempt to dominate the landscape with absolute truths and new dictatorships. In the end, however, these forces will also fade, because exclusionist, authoritarian discourses cannot answer the people’s need for a better quality of life –economically, politically, culturally, and otherwise.